Somewhere deep beyond the woods you know there stands a house that should not be there. Reality shifts and shimmers around it, surrounding the peculiar structure in a vortex of interdimensional voids and cosmic fissures and other things. The shutters clang against their windows. The house is entirely dark, save for a single flickering light in the topmost room. Inside the house that should not be there, someone is reading.
The man closes the book with, he believes, a flourish. Outside, the winds appear to have subsided. The house has, at the very least, stopped shaking. The man sighs and gets up from the bed. He puts the book he has just finished on a side table already full of books and loose papers and empty mugs. He looks at the rest of the chaotic clutter that makes up his room with a slight look of shame. He catches his reflection in the mirror above the dresser. His hair has grown longer and wilder in the month that he has been here, not to mention his beard. He resolves to tidy up his appearance before leaving later on in the night. But, before he gets to that, he spots a book on one of the shelves that line the walls of the room — a book he has been meaning to read for the longest while. He grabs it, thinking that it would be nice to pick up something with no relation to arcane rites or rituals. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he cracks the book open and begins to read.
Calcifer, his wing all but healed, flies back into the house just as the man makes his way down the stairs. He has cleaned up somewhat, the crow notes, although to him he still looks like something you’d find out in the woods. Something dead and ravaged. He doesn’t voice this thought, however.
“I was just making the rounds outside,” he says instead, alighting on a pile of books on top of a table in the entryway. “All clear now. No weird things shambling about or cracks in reality or nothing.”
“You sound disappointed about that,” the man says, taking his jacket from the coat tree near the front door.
“No, it’s just,” Calcifer struggles to find the words. “That’s it? It’s over? We… we won?”
“Again,” says the man. “You sound disappointed.”
“No,” the crow says, glaring. “No, it’s just that it feels slightly anticlimactic.”
“Yeah, I get what you mean,” says the man. “A few of the books I read this season were like that. Ah, well. They can’t all be hits.”
“That’s not what I mean at all and you damn well know it.”
“No, not— Nevermind.”
Osseous walks into the foyer then, a small stack of books in their skeletal hands.
“Thank you, Oz,” the man says, receiving the pile. He begins the complicated puzzle that is shoving a bunch of books into an already overstuffed bag. “Our feathered friend here was just complaining about how abrupt the conclusion to this whole thing was.”
“The Hallowed Ritual can feel like that, at times,” says the skeletal librarian. “It is a good thing. It means the other players played their parts well and without much trouble.”
Calcifer caws. “It’s not that I’m complaining or anything,” he says. “It’s just that, you know, it’s the Maleficent Monarchs we were talking about. Just thought it would, I dunno, involve more. Some epic battle or whatever.”
“I think he’s been reading too many of these books, Oz,” the man says with a grin.
The crow stares daggers at the man.
“Look,” the man says, while working on his storage conundrum. “You have to realize that despite the fact that Those That Dwell in the Dark are nigh omnipotent otherworldly beings, they also just happen to be a colossal bunch of losers.”
Osseous nods their skull in agreement. “The Ritual has been going on for a long time. The other side has yet to win.”
“That’s comforting, I suppose.”
“Yes, well, maybe you’ll get your fight to the death next time, Calcifer.”
The crow starts to preen his feathers, ignoring the man.
The man shoulders his bulky rucksack. “Friends, the lonesome October has finally come to a close. Now we get to relax and enjoy the fact that the world has not yet come to an end thanks in part to our humble efforts.”
The man opens the front door. Outside the house that should not be there, moonlight shines on the fall foliage of the surrounding forest, making it gleam in the night. “It’s been surreal, guys,” he says with a frivolous bow. “Until next time.”
The door closes and he is gone.
“Huh,” Calcifer says. “So that’s that, then.”
A knock on one of the sidelights flanking the door. “Oh and happy Hallowe’en and all that!” The man’s declaration sounds muffled through the glass. He gives a thumbs up and disappears once more, into the night.
The librarian and the crow stand quietly for a moment.
“Hey, speaking of which, Oz. We get any trick-or-treaters out here?”
“I guessed. Shame.”
“At least things should be quiet for a while,” Calcifer says, after a beat.
“Yes,” Osseous says. “Well, the ghosts do tend to get restless come Yuletide.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
Calcifer sighs as a myriad of questions quickly come to mind. He knows better now, though. Knows that any answer he seeks he can find without much difficulty, here in this house full of secrets and stories. At the moment, however, there is only one question he wants answered.
“We got anything to eat?” the crow asks.
The librarian nods.
Inside the house that should not be there, somewhere beyond the woods you know, the two friends make their way towards the kitchens.
A Night in the Lonesome October was a re-read for me, although it had been so long that I had forgotten most of the particulars. It certainly made an impression, though, since the little framing story that I had been writing throughout the season turned out to be my own humble riff on this wonderfully playful and spooky story about a group of occultists trying to impede — or invoke — the End of Days through the closing — or opening — of a gateway for the Great Old Ones. (“Humble,” he says, shamelessly.)
The influence shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though, since Zelazny was a writer after my own heart. The book is full of clever, whimsical wordplay (there’s a romantic subplot that exists solely as a means to a pun) and droll dialogue riddled with amusing arcane-babble (techno-babble’s mystical equivalent).
Lonesome October is also very much a love letter to classic horror, not only of the filmic and literary persuasion, but the historical as well (our narrator is, after all, Jack the Ripper’s canine companion). References and easter eggs abound, focusing mainly on the monster movies of Universal Studios and the lurid yarns of the Victorian era. Some Lovecraftian lore is thrown in for good measure. (And also Sherlock Holmes, because of course he would stick his pipe in at some point.)
Each chapter corresponds to one night in October, and I had a tremendous amount of fun picking up this book every evening throughout the month. It turned out to be a grounding ritual as well — a reminder that, despite my tendency to stress out over wanting to watch all of the things and read all of the books and write all of the stories, this ludicrous holiday should be, above all, an enjoyable time. This book made my October even more fun than it already was (and, indeed, much less lonesome).
And it has been a good one. I watched some decent movies. Read some fine books, of course. Even wrote a mad bit of a short story! So I think we can jot this month down as a success. Surely we’ve managed to keep the darkness at bay for a little while longer.
Happy Hallowe’en, you lovely weirdos!