October’s Own: When the Sun Shrinks Back and the Dark Stretches

I didn’t want to let the dread of the long winter nights get the better of me. Not this early in the year. So I forged ahead.

pulled my thin coat tighter against the nip already in the autumn air as I walked along a narrow London road to meet a friend at The Old Truman Brewery. It’s not far from the streets that Jack the Ripper once haunted, but I was not worried. It was still early—just after 6 p.m. A month before, I had walked this way at the same time in daylight. But with October’s early nightfall, the entrance to the underpass was now completely black. The darkness caught me by surprise. I hadn’t thought to change my route.

I didn’t want to let the dread of the long winter nights get the better of me. Not this early in the year. So I forged ahead. Click, click, click. My L.K. Bennett heels—a symbol of both my style and paycheque at the time—had seemed like a good idea when I left the office. Now, the strike of each heel echoed as I walked into the tunnel.

A few steps in, I thought I saw something move. The shape was vague at first but then became clearer. A man. He stood, leaning with his back against the cold bricks. He stared straight ahead, but it was hard to say at what. There was nothing else except the narrow road, the brick tunnel and me.

I almost turned, but the passage was short. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to me, but I didn’t want to run, lest I’d look like prey.

Though I had been living in London for three years, the early nightfall still caught me by surprise. In Canada, I had to cope with the cold of winter. In London, it was a matter of enduring the lack of daylight. We often talk about change in the spring, but it’s fall that comes with a dramatic swipe. As high as the British summer sun can climb, the descent into winter is like a cliff. In October, sunlight slips so easily through one’s fingers. And the long night is drawn-out suspense—toes curled at the edge, darkness cupped in hands, eyes struggling to adjust—with the endless night of winter still ahead.

I picked up my pace to get through the underpass. Click, click, click. My heels counted each step on the cement. He was now only a few feet ahead, a plume of cold breath. I held mine as I walked. Fear slowed things down in my mind, but my body kept pace. The next heel struck and clicked. I could no longer see the man out of the corner of my eye, but I heard a deep thud. At first I thought it was the sound of my heart, but soon it came again. A man’s shoe hitting the sidewalk behind me. Click, click, thud. His foot landed close to my heel.

October is when the sun shrinks back, the dark stretches out and the mind instinctively turns to the long months ahead. I’ve come to learn that the accompanying dread might have a purpose. The one who fears the dark is more likely to change her route. Click, click, thud. Winter took one step for my two.

The Mood: October

Every month has a mood, a feeling, some combination of memories, moments and nostalgia. You know it—you feel it—even if you’ve never really thought about it. To help encapsulate the moods of the months, we’re asking novelists to take on the calendar and evoke the feelings of each season through fiction, memoir or some mix of the two. Claire Cameron’s latest novel is The Last Neanderthal.