After days and days of rain, overcast, and fog, from a hurricane to the south, the sun finally found its way through the day before. After a whole day to dry out, the day dawned relatively warm, and far  less squashy under foot.

Mrs. Hillary, in her earlier guise as a suburban soccer-mom, had registered to help arrange part of the village Trick or Treating alternatives for a properly pandemic conscious and socially distanced celebration. She got permission to use the empty church as a staging post for her minions’ efforts, so there was no problem when it came to setting up the altar and indoor fire arrangements in and around the other activities.

As agreed, the ladies brought by their contributions to the wood store with D/OG and Maximus along as guards. It was startling to watch how quickly a crowd of ordinary-looking, pleasantly chatting people can go from carefully opening sealed containers of individually wrapped candies and sorting them for goodie bags for the children, to a mob of mask-wearing, gloved cultists, glaring almost hungrily at their enemies. The setup made for an almost perfect ambush. The ladies were outnumbered four to one, and no one could easily observe or interrupt.

When the nearest two cultists started to set aside their tasks in hand, Maximus and D/OG pointed out that it would not be twelve against three. It would be twelve against five. I do not know if it was Maximus’s almost subsonic growl; D/OG’s quiet yet perfectly audible and understandable murmur of ‘Good morning’; or the way each lady hefted a rather club-like stick of firewood in their dominant hand; but the cultists, as a collective, thought better of the ambush (especially those nearer two) and went back to their more charitable activities.

D/OG stayed behind to watch for sneakiness, and scan the candies stickers, and other things for tampering of the sort a cult of the Old Gods might get up to. He did not find anything, but the work crew did flinch and move away when the scanner emerged through the fur on D/Og’s forehead and whirled faintly.

The ladies departed with no further exchanges of unpleasantness. On the walk home D/OG commented mildly. “For a bunch of humans who react that badly to me, one wonders how they expect to cope with a return of the Old Gods.”

To pass the time until midnight, the ladies carved pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns, carefully saving the seeds for salty, toasted snacks, and the removed pith for making soups and pies. Most notable among their efforts were the owl of light flying across the face of a dark full moon above a familiar church steeple. A black dog stood guard against a fiery background. A bunny raced across the face of the moon after half-formed creatures, and three, pointy-hatted women stood around a huge cauldron.

These would serve to help light and guard the main event. The thing from the trunk provided the fires inside, and the thing from the wardrobe came downstairs to enhance their effectiveness as wards against the agents of darkness. The thing or things from the circle had nothing to contribute. In fact, at some time in the last day or so, the wide metal circle had disappeared from the basement floor, though no one commented on it.

Eventually, after a light dinner and the washing of the dishes, Maximus and Magnar went to stand by the front door. “I guess it is time,”Jan said, looking one last time around the kitchen for anything they might have forgotten. Then, they simply walked out. They left the front door unlocked, just in case. Rather than flying along with the rest, Marius quickly rose up and disappeared from sight. Noone commented on that either, but every eye in the group watched him go.

For effect, they decided to enter the sanctuary directly, through the side door, rather than pass through any…surprises that might have been left in the foyer. Janet unlocked the door with a skeleton key of her own design, made for the occasion.

The ladies, Magnar, Maximus, and D/OG arrived before midnight, of course, but they cut it close enough to give Mrs. Hillary and Mr. Yates hope for a no show. They certainly looked disappointed enough when the open door made the fire flicker in its barrel, announcing the new arrivals.

Mrs. Hillary wore her high priestess robe, with the cowl pushed back. Mr Yates wore his sigil decorated, demon-summoning robes. By contrast, the ladies looked distinctly pedestrian in loose jeans, running shoes, and warm sweaters in their signature colors.

The smell of the fire gave ample evidence that Mr. Yates and Mrs. Hillary had already started feeding it what ingredients they managed to acquire that month, a heavily smell, with a sharp edge of herbs.

The ladies quickly stepped forward to add bundles of their own. Janets’ smelled of molten iron and oregano. JAne’s smelt of burning silk and peppermint. Jan’s filled the air with the smell of cinnamon and wet clay, which is an odd smell to get from a fire. Maximus and Magnar’s additions did not give off a light or smell as such, but Magnar’s hummed a clear, sweet note, and after Maximus made his offering, a wave of peace and ease washed through the room. D/OG’s contribution sent up a fountain of blue-white sparks that burned out before touching anything.

“What happened to the owl?” Mrs. Hillary asked, hatred naked in her face. Marius had stolen away two of her sacrifices, after all.

“Thank you for reminding me,” Jane said, quickly bringing a last little bundle out from her pocket, and tossing it into the flames. “Don’t worry about him. He is around, somewhere, making certain things go as they ought.”

The bells in the steeple overhead started ringing out the midnight hour, though no one pulled their ropes.

Jan looked down at Magnar and asked, “How goes the night?”

“All right so far, why do you ask?” Magnr replied.

“Just checking to see if our phantom bell ringer kept good time,” she responded. The Closers variously laughed, snorted, and smiled, but the Openers were unimpressed.

Venomtongue coiled around his mistress’s person and busily whispered in her ear. Highwire crouched miserably in a very small circle, inscribed around with runes and diagrams. A long, silver knife lay nearby, and she seemed unaware of anything else in the room.

Mr. Yates strode over to stand in his own circle, but even before he reached it, Mrs. Hillary made an opening gesture in a grand sweep of her wide sleeve. Nothing happened. She made another. It produced the same complete lack of reaction.

“You must have made a mistake when trying to adapt for the missing ingredients,” Mr. Yates sneered, and they could all hear the deeper, horribly evil echo that now rang behind his voice. In spite of the limitations, Mr. Yates had not come to the conflict alone.

He picked up his knife and smiled an awful smile. “Now, let me show you what a real opening looks like.” The dirty little sorcerer knelt down and kissed the blade.

Before he could do anything else, Janet said, “Well, that is enough of this.” Without any thought of Mrs. Hillary’s continuing Opening gestures, Mr. Yates’s careful designs, or even the demon lurking behind the man’s eyes, Janet strode across the room.

With one sneakered foot, Janet broke the circle around Highwire. Immediately, the monkey started to panic, but muscles made weak by privation and abuse could not move fast. Strong blacksmith’s hands snatched Highwire into such a warm, comforting, and protective embrace that Highwire calmed instantly, partially in shock.

“What in all the hells do you think you are doing?” Mr. Yates screamed, jerking to his feet and trying to grab his abused companion without breaking his circle.

Janet ignored the noise, heading for the door through which they entered. “Good luck,” she said to Maximus and the others as she passed. Jane and Jan followed closely upon their elder’s heels.

“Bring her back!” Mr. Yates demanded.

Mrs. Hillary snickered. Maximus yawned. Magnar seemed to have fallen asleep which seemed frankly implausible under the circumstances.

“Oh do shut up,” Mrs. Hillary said at last, cutting into what was rapidly growing into a full blown rant. “You should be used to losing sacrifices by now.

“At least, with those three chickening out at the last minute, we have the Opening way clear of any opposition. I think that is more than worth your little, animal sacrifice.” Clearly, Mrs. Hillary did not count the ‘mree’ animal companions as opposition.

It was a pleasure to watch her get disabused of that notion. “Actually, you have that completely the wrong way around,” Maximus called out, a deep layer of amusement supporting his words.

“He is right. At this moment, the Closer’s are shutting the way back down without a single one of you Openers to interfere.” Magnar smirked.

“That’s impossible!” Mrs. Hillary yelled. “The last Closers just left.” She stabbed one finger towards the side door.

Magnar could not help it, though it was not nice. Final proof that they had pulled off the deception made the urge irresistible. He collapsed into a puddle of laughter.

Maximus had a better control of himself. His voice was steady as he explained. “The ladies were not Closers, though they definitely supported that cause. The ladies were never players at all. They just went through the motions, so that none of you would look too hard for the real players and their homes, Marius, Magnar, and I.”

“How can you be the players?” Mrs. Hillary sneered.

At the same time, My. Yates demanded, “If you are the players, where are your companions?”

“Our companions are us, too.” Magnar smiled. “It is rather like you and your demonic companion, only completely voluntary on both parts, and far less hazardous for both parties.”

“But then,” Mr. Yates started, but Mrs. Hillary clawed at the air with both hands, cutting him off.

“Shut up, you fool. It doesn’t matter what, why, how, or who! The problem is where! If these are the players with unknown homes and those… witches are not,” (She clearly meant to use a much ruder term, probably with some nasty adjectives, but her tongue could not shape the sounds, and there were more important things to worry about.) “then the real problem is where! This isn’t the real center.”

“Of course not,” D/OG said in his emotionless voice. “If this really was holy ground, the demon riding Mr. Yates would never have been able to cross onto the property.”

“It told me the possession would circumvent that restriction,” Mr. Yates said in a hollow voice.

“I am sure that is the impression it gave, but in fact, it never said that this ground had been sanctified and it would be unable to enter any other way,” D/OG responded flatly. The sick look that washed over Mr. Yates’s face made it clear D/OG had it right.

Mrs. Hillary stalked forward, a long knife of her own in one hand and murder in her eyes. Mr. Yates quickly broke his circle and followed her example.

Without batting an eye, Maximus pointed out, “Right now, the Curse Keeper and Marius are Closing the way. You can stay here and try to kill us, letting all your hard work go to waste, or, if you hurry, you might be able to do something to stop them.”

The two Openers hesitated, but did not stop, so Magnar pushed them again. “We will even give you a fighting chance. The real center is in the old Wood Henge by the East Wood Haven Bed and Breakfast.”

For an eternal instant or two, ambition and revenge warred within the Openers, but ambition won out. Mrs. Hillary ran for her suburban, with Mr. Yates close on her heels.

“Why did you give them the center?” D/OG asked.

“I did not want to get into a fight in a church,” Magnar responded. “Even one that is not really a church yet. It would be disrespectful.”

“Besides, things will work out better if we are all together for the denouncement,” Maximus added. “They have already burned all their ingredients, so they can do little harm.”

“Still, you two should go. I will stay and make certain the fire goes out without doing any harm,” D/OG volunteered.

“Thank you,” Maximus said, and Magnar echoed. The path to the center of it all was much shorter the way Magnar and Maximus took than Mrs. Hillary could manage by roads. Even still, suburban versus four feet nearly dead heated the finish.

Even through the intervening trees and underbrush, anyone could see that they had found the right place. The sky glowed overhead with a clear, green radiance that transmitted the activity in the center to all the players long before they achieved anything like line of sight.

The Curse Keeper stood by a small, bronze brazier filled with crystalline green flames with the Closing Wand in his hand. Under the light of a full, blue moon that would touch the entire globe with its light before waning, the way had opened from the other side.

Mouche stood in the ruins of the Jack O’Lanterns fighting off a swarm of shadowy little creatures trying to get at the Curse Keeper. Even as the others ran, the green light showed them the dark mottled tentacle weaving its way out of the wide, circular hole in the ground that led from that world to somewhere far stranger.

It, too, stretched out for the Curse Keeper and his wand. Mouche had no attention or energy to spare for this new threat but he need not have worried.

Marius dove down from his perch, striking the tentacle talons first. In spite of the owl’s small size, the tentacle flinched back, violently. Guided by who knows what terrible intelligence, the tendril from another reality tried to strike from a different direction. The owl intersected that thrust as well.

When the third thrust proved that the tentacle meant to persist, something changed. The owl deflected the attack as before, but when he flew up again, something, or rather someone followed the initial downward trajectory, all the way to the ground. The owl settled back onto his branch, ceeding the defence to his other self.

A rather short, stocky, anthropomorphic moose stood en garde between the portal and the man. In spite of the kneehigh boots, tabard, and plumed hat he wore Marius, for this moose was the real Marius, wielded a two- handed, straight sword with a long tassel pendant from the hilt to fence with the invader. As one might expect, the sword worked even better than scratch owl talons.

Instead of simply driving the tentacle back, the jian lopped large pieces from the tentacle with every stroke. The lost pieces quickly liquified and then evaporated before hitting the ground. It is unclear whether Marius drove the tentacle back through its gate, or if he pruned the limb back until there was none left on this side, but just as Mrs. Hillary stepped into the small clearing the Curse Keeper had hacked into the middle of the wood, the way closed with an organic sucking sound.

Mrs. Hillary did not stop her charge, aiming for the back of Marius’s tabard with her drawn knife in an ice pick grip. She did not exactly run quietly. Even if Marius did not hear Mrs. Hillary’s approach, he could not miss Mr. Yates groaning pants as he stumbled into the clearing behind her. The Jian deflected the plunging knife easily. Mrs. Hillary turned, searching for another target. The Curse Keeper stood smiling faintly with his knife in his hand, and Mouche, no longer beset by shadows, sitting ready at his feet. Mrs. Hillary turned on the smaller pair, with Mr. Yates still lumbering up behind her.

The dog and bunny watched the stumbling charge calmly enough. At a little more than arm’s distance, they stepped apart, leaving their other selves behind. Maximus, or Maximoose to give his proper name, did not stand much taller than Marius, but he had an impressive increase in muscle mass. Now, Magnar was an entirely different story. He stood nearly twice as tall as Mrs. Hillary, and he was every bit as stocky as Marius, if not as well developed as Maximoose.

Even as her momentum dragged her forward, Mrs. Hillary started trying to back away from that towering figure. Rather than press his advantage, Magnar scooped up his bunny companion. He stroked the furry back, only until Mrs. Hillary managed to halt her forward progress. Then he gave the bunny a momentum boost as it jumped from a height to hit Mrs. Hillary with all four feet right below her collar bones.

The bunny bounced from there and landed neatly on the ground at Magnar’s feet, but Mrs. Hillary fell back. She tried to catch herself, stumbling a step, but Mr. Yates was in the way. They both fell in a tangle of limbs.

They did not, however, hit the ground. Marius had slipped the metal circle onto the ground behind the falling pair. This time the swirling portal needed no elaborate activation or stabilization. Mrs. Hillary and Mr. Yates fell out of that place into somewhere else.

That, however, was not the end of the portal’s usefulness for the night. The swirling water slowed, and began to spin in the other direction, even faster. First, it spit out a grumpy old fae, still dusty from the imminent collapse of his house. Then the missing children started sliding out, laughing with delight, each one landing in a clear space as a moose greeted them and led them away from the arrival area.

Suddenly, the clearing filled with humans. They wore no uniforms or insignia, but I am certain most if not all of them owned such things. The Curse Keeper and the Dark Fae slipped away in the ensuing chaos. The newcomers let the two Closers go. They had enough to be getting on with as they greeted the children by name, and started funneling them towards the Bed and Breakfast. When the missing adults from the city across the river started showing up, things got really exciting.

Somehow, after the first few of Special Agent Whitfield’s friends stepped forward to accept the arrivals, everyone stopped noticing the moosey people in the clearing. By the time the last person returned to his or her own time, if not quite the right place, the mooses had faded out of sight entirely, though someone had to retrieve the metal ring once the portal closed.

Only Special Agent Whitfield saw and remembered the whole thing. He never forgot anything, after all, but explanations of the inexplicable could be so difficult. The officer of the law let the saviors of the world go with little more than a wave. It was enough to have the Happy Ending, without a trip to the sanitarium…again.


2 thoughts on “Another Night in the Lonesome October: October 31st

  1. Ha! Nice save….that was a lot of work….and now you turn around and do the November challenge? Wow

    On Sat, Oct 31, 2020 at 6:01 AM Moose Valley Tales wrote:

    > Cody E. Tower posted: ” After days and days of rain, overcast, and fog, > from a hurricane to the south, the sun finally found its way through the > day before. After a whole day to dry out, the day dawned relatively warm, > and far less squashy under foot. Mrs. Hillary,” >


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