Mob Scene: Dark Harvest

Many works of fiction have featured an Angry Mob scene, but arguably none have employed one to the same extent as Norman Partridge’s 2006 novel, Dark Harvest. The entire plot of the book concerns such eruption of chaotic, hyperviolent street justice. An anonymous Midwestern town acts out a black ritual every Halloween night: the teenage male population of this rural remote is charged with executing “a pumpkin-headed monster,” the October Boy, preventing the cornfield emigrant from reaching the old brick church in the town square by midnight. This ritualistic slaughter is carried out in the interest of continued community existence: the town secures “what it needs to get through another year of raising prize crops from the same old dirt, what it needs to turn those crops into cold hard cash–the whole deal delivered with a king-sized platter of blessings from above or below, depending on who the hell you listen to.”

Locked in their bedrooms unfed for the five days leading up to Halloween night, the teens are whipped into a feeding frenzy. When finally freed for the Run, they are armed to the teeth, wielding “baseball bats and pitchforks,” “butcher knives and two by fours studded with nails,” “bows and arrows and axe handles and scythes.” The teens thrum with dangerous energy, bashing porch-set jack-o’-lanterns as they roam the streets (warm up for the potential showdown with the October Boy). Armed guards posted outside the town’s market, diner, truck stop, and liquor store cannot always serve to curb the mob’s wild appetites–outbreak of deadly food-looting occurs. A gross violation of the rules, which decree that that the teens stay hungry until the dirty deed of leveling the walking scarecrow is done. Then the grim feast can begin (as demonstrated by a flashback to the prior year’s Run): “They came by the dozen, and they ripped the Boy apart and chowed down on those treats buried inside him.”

Partridge compares the imprisoned (pre-Run) teens to “bulls penned up in tight little chutes.” Hitting the streets at last on Halloween, they are described as “running in packs, like dogs turned loose for the hunt.” The figuration of the mob scene grows even more explicit: “Of course, the October Boy knows what stands between him and the church. Packs of teenagers roaming the street like armed villagers in some old Frankenstein movie.” But apropos of a novel in which crossing “the Line” (marking the town limits) is thematized and the distinction between categorical opposites is deliberately blurred (in “a town where winning is just another name for losing“), Dark Harvest does not stick strictly to the Universal blueprint. For all his repeated likening to Frankenstein’s monster, the October Boy is no dumb, lumbering brute. He exhibits admirable craftiness in outfoxing his antagonists, leaving his Halloween-candy viscera as trail bait, and sneaking into town behind the wheel of a hot rod stolen from one of the teens. Frankenstein’s monster famously gets torched inside the old windmill in the climax of the 1931 movie, but the October Boy uses fire to his own arsonist advantage: he sparks a series of blazes as strategic distractions that draw the teens away from the church (and which ultimately combine to engulf the town in a cataclysmic inferno). The “reaper that grows in the field, the merciless trick with a heart made of treats, the butchering nightmare with the hacksaw face,” the October Boy is the very embodiment of contradiction and terrible turnabout. By the sweet, vengeful end of the novel, he is the persecuted monster who beats (with a last-minute assist from protagonists Pete and Kelly, who have discovered the Run’s sinister twist) the angry mob at its own rampaging game.


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