Roger Cowin is the pen name for Sebastian Crow, who is a retired slacker from October Country.  Since he no longer has to punch a clock, he lives in perpetual Halloween. He is also the author of two short story collections and two poetry collections. His most recent story, “Sal’s Requiem”appears in The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories.

by Roger Cowin

It was in the odd season, that hazy, indeterminate interlude just past autumn but not quite winter when the weirdness came over this quiet, lacustrine village on the border. Things had been normal for the better part of two decades, seasons coming and going as they are wont to do, time behaving in a rational and dependable manner.

Despite the murmured grumblings of the old timers with their ominous warnings and rumors rife with superstition, those of us blessed with a less morbid turn of imagination were quick to dismiss the apprehensions of our doom-fearing neighbors. Most assumed the bad times were behind us as we went about our everyday lives, unconcerned with the past, so when the unseasonably warm weather took a sudden turn towards the peculiar and the strangeness settled in, we were the least prepared to deal with it.

The village had suffered many unfortunate maladies throughout its long, colorful history, which did much to explain the rather moribund outlook of its elder citizenry, but this time felt different—more dangerous and unpredictable.

Maybe it was the thinness in the air or the way the water turned sour and sulfuric that caused the initial unease. Or maybe it was just because it was the odd season and things tended to turn from weird to weirder in that uncertain time between fall and winter.

It began innocuous enough. Violent, purple clouds gathered in the sky, like a web of malevolent spiders ready to descend upon the village like some ancient, Biblical plague. Then came the deep, rumbling growl of distant thunder, like a herald of impending doom.

I was clerking in Mose’s Fine Tobacco; Domestic and Imported shop when the first clouds converged. Mose Hardesty, my boss and the store’s nervous, paunchy proprietor, was staring out the window and fussing over the darkening sky.

“Bad omen,” he grumped.

“What’s that, Mose?” I replied, glancing up from the register where I was busy tallying the receipts for the day.

“Bad luck coming.”

I grinned and shook my head. “Bad luck’s already here.”

Mose’s brows furrowed when he observed my bemused expression. “Go ahead and smirk all you like, Jonas Crabtree, but I warn you, this is gonna be a bad one.”

Trying, but failing to keep my grin hidden, I went back to my counting, glancing up only long enough to sneak a peek out the window at the rapidly approaching storm. Before long, the street outside was as black as a raven’s coat, even though the grandfather clock in the corner had not yet struck five. Odd season or not, no doubt we were headed for a helluva storm.

As the afternoon wore on towards evening, the silence in the shop grew as deep as the day’s shadows. Mose stopped his gloomy muttering and resigned himself to glaring out the window, his head cocked sideways like a curious bird. I finished tallying the receipts and began taking inventory, a bit curious myself by the lack of customers.

The shop, albeit small, was popular in the village and maintained a steady stream of customers. Most were regulars, dropping in for their daily smokes or for a quick exchange of gossip with me and Mose, but we also catered to a lot of tourists of the type who were attracted to those quaint shops that were off the beaten track. But since Mose first noticed the clouds gathering overhead, not a single customer passed through the door.

An uncomfortable sense of foreboding settled over us and I found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on my duties. I wanted nothing more than to be locked safely away in my cozy apartment, my curtains drawn, listening to soft music and reading my Dickens.

I was on the verge of asking Mose if I could knock off early, owing to the scarcity of customers, when the combination of an unexpected clap of thunder and the jangling of the bell above the entrance startled me. I swore loudly, warranting a cross look from Mose, as I fumbled a box of expensive Oliva Melano Figuardo’s, scattering the fat cigars across the floor.

A burst of frigid air accompanied the customer’s wake as I stooped to gather up the cigars, tossing them unceremoniously back in their box.

“Not fit for man or beast or insect out there.” I recognized the gruff voice of Randolph Carter and raised a hand in greeting.

“Good Lord, Carter, did you hear that thunder?” Mose asked.

“Ayup, and it’s lightning to beat the band. I do believe the giants are playing nine pins up on Mount Silas today,” Randolph said. “Also, it's snowing over on Maple.”

“Afternoon, Mr. Carter,” I said, putting the last few cigars back in the box.

“Snow?” asked Mose, “Are you serious?”

“And black to boot. Looks like it’s headed this way,” Randolph said.

“Black, you say?” Mose replied, scratching the peach fuzz on his head.

“As tar. Haven’t seen black snow since the early aughts. Aught seven, I believe. Or was it eight?” Randolph said, his head bobbing up and down on his long, scrawny neck. He was a short, gangly fellow in his early seventies with an overly nervous disposition, though this afternoon, he appeared calmer than usual, especially given the strange nature of the weather.

“Aught ten,” Mose said. Mose would correct the Good Lord for the sake of an argument.

“Mayhap you’re right, Mose. You usually are.” Randolph had known Mose long enough to realize the futility of arguing with him.

“Pollution maybe, like that acid rain?” I suggested.

“Or some kind of curse,” Mose offered.

The sheriff paused, then said, “Or it’s the goddamn odd season. Always get crazy weather in the odd season.”

Mose nodded his head. “Ain’t that the truth.”

“And gonna get crazier. Been too long between odd seasons. The longer the gap, the worse they are.”

I wasn’t totally convinced this was an effect of the odd season. I suspected it was the result of too much smog from the factories over in Hanuck City.

And if it wasn’t for that continued sense of things feeling out of kilter, I might even have got myself to believe it. But what did I know? I wasn’t much more than a boy during the last odd season.

“Well, since I’m here, I might as well get a couple of those Madeira’s I like,” Carter said.

As I fetched the cigars from the glass display case, I couldn’t help noticing the old fellow looked different somehow, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Have you ever been so used to seeing someone that when they do something new to themselves, something small like change their hairstyle or take off a few pounds, it’s difficult to pinpoint just how they’re different? That’s how it was with Carter.

“Changed your hair, Mr. Carter?” I asked as I exchanged the cigars for his cash.

“Hell to the no. Got so little hair, at my age that’d be like putting lipstick on a pig. Ain’t gonna pretty me up none.”

“No, no. Jonas is right. You do look a tad different,” Mose said, coming closer. “Got dentures, didn’t you?”

Carter grinned, showing a mouthful of pink gum devoid of teeth, then cackled. “You boys are something else. Maybe it’s just my clean living catching up to me.”

“Reckon so,” Mose replied, losing interest.

“Well, you boys have a good evening.” Carter stuffed his cigars inside his brown parka and headed for the door. “And Mose don’t be working that yowen so hard. Why don’t you both get home before that snow gets here? No telling what that stuff might do to you.”

“Yeah, you have a good night, too,” Mose replied as the sheriff opened the door, letting in another blast of icy air.

Mose continued to stare out the window for several minutes while I kept busy by sweeping up behind the counter. Finally he said, “Why don’t you go on home, Jonas? I’ll finish locking up.”

I didn’t put up an argument. I paused only long enough to grab my coat and mumble goodnight to Mose before I was out the door.


That night, the storm hit with full force, accompanied not only by bitter cold and hurricane force winds but black snow. I sat in my cozy apartment warmed by the soothing heat from my kerosene heater and watched the lights flicker off and on, as I waited for the wind to take down the powerlines and plunge me into total darkness.

The electric held out, but when I ventured a peek out the window, the sight of all that black snow covering the earth like a funeral shroud was enough to put me off my earlier plans to spend the night with Monsieur Dickens and Hayden. Instead, I opted for an early bedtime, pulling the covers over my head like a turtle hiding in its shell and drifted off to a broken, unpleasant sleep.

Slogging through a half foot of black snow on my way to work the next morning, I was damn near bowled over by a band of giggling children racing out of the alley between Mose’s shop and The Village U-Washee Laundromat. Curious, I glanced down the alley to see what they’d found so amusing, but the dimness of the alley made it impossible to see anything.

I shrugged and was about to move when I heard a whimper come from the alley.

“Who’s there?” I yelled.

When no one answered, I tried again.

“Hey, is somebody there? Are you hurt, do you need help?”

Another whimper, this time a bit louder drifted up from the alley. I figured I’d better have a look. No telling what mischief those kids had been up to; they seemed like they were a wild bunch.

At first, I could see nothing, but as my eyes became accustomed to the low light, I caught a glimpse of a shape dangling in midair. Coming closer, I noticed a small dog had been trussed up by its hind quarters and left hanging from a fire escape, coarse twine was wrapped around its snout so all it could utter was that low, pitiful whine.

Carefully, I cut the little terrier down using my pocketknife, then unwrapped the bonds around its snout. I tried to comfort the poor thing, but it was so frightened by its encounter, it nipped my hand and ran off, yelping towards the street. As I watched it scurrying off, its tiny legs kicking up fluffs of black snow, I said a silent prayer that things would get no worse. Such unanswered prayers are why have my doubts about God’s existence.


Over the course of the next few weeks, things spiraled ever more out of control, as the village descended into the surreal nightmare that was always a sure sign the odd season was upon us.

Tourists vanished from the streets as they abandoned the village for more hospitable destinations elsewhere. Even the shop’s regular customers stayed away in droves. No one wanted to be out in the black snow, which continued to fall in an unrelenting blizzard of cold, dark ash. I took to wearing a pair of thick galoshes, my heaviest winter parka, gloves, and a ski mask whenever I needed to venture outside my apartment. I even started driving the three blocks to work each morning to minimize my exposure to the foul stuff. 

The loss in business had Mose considering shutting down the store until the season ran its course. He was losing more money by staying open than if he’d just stay closed for a few days. But he knew from experience just how uncertain the odd season could be. It might last a few weeks or, though rare, several months. Legend even held that once it lasted a full decade. That was long ago, in the burning times when witchery was rampant and evil spirits were said to roam the deadlands outside the village.

By the end of the first week, the village’s consolidated school closed. There was no formal announcement as there usually was during inclement weather. Parents just stopped sending their kids, and with no students, the school board cancelled the remaining semester, at least until the season passed. 

During ordinary times, this would have been an opportune time for the village children to descend upon the park building snowmen and ice forts, while others gathered down at the lake to skate and play hockey. But this year, the parks and playgrounds and lakes remained abandoned as the children huddled inside, watching cartoons on television or playing video games as their bodies grew fat and bloated.

When not working, I confined myself to my tiny apartment, keeping the shades drawn tight and passing the hours with the endless Christmas programs that played on the television, seemingly nonstop. The rest of the world was deep into the holiday season, ignorant of the odd season afflicting our village.

Before bed each night, I watched the late news for any mention of the strange happenings in our little hamlet, but it was as if the whole village had vanished from the planet, transported to some alternate dimension. No reporters converged upon us to hear our stories, no television newsmen showed up to shove their microphones under our noses and ask us nonsense questions like “How long do you think this will last?” and “When did you notice you were sprouting a tail?”

We were terra incognito, we were lost in the Twilight Zone.

I slept poorly most nights, kept awake by the distant pounding of drums and the strange, haunting trills of a spectral flute. I’m not sure when the music began, so innocuous was its beginning.  It was as if it had always been there, a subliminal soundtrack, only audible when the hour was late and all the world hid beneath its blankets, shivering in the inimical dark. Nevertheless, by the middle of the second week, I was very much aware of the music’s subtle, constant presence.

Sometimes, the drums and flute were accompanied by the eerie, discordant wheeze of a carnival calliope playing a funeral dirge, fading as another drear dawn loomed. Only then I might manage three or four hours of fitful sleep before rising to another gloomy, overcast day.

“You think it’ll ever end?” asked a rare customer as I was peering out the shop window watching more fresh, black snow piling up on the near deserted street.

“Always has before.” Mose shrugged and handed Clayton Poole a bag of Dark Harvest Tobacco and a package of pipe cleaners.

“Sure do seem like it’s dragging on though, don’t it?” Clayton interjected, as the tentacles on his face twitched and curled, grasping at the air. One snaked out and snatched the bag of tobacco from Mose. “Might wind up being as bad as the one in aught eight.”

“Aught nine,” Mose replied, “But lordy, let’s hope not,”

“From your lips to Cthulhu’s ears,” Clayton said. As he exited the store, he used his left hand to open the door, his right having been transformed into a giant, lobster’s pincer.

“Wonder when Clayton swapped out his nice red beard for the tentacles?” I asked.

Mose lit a cigarette and joined me by the window. "Don’t know. Must be spending too much time out in this snow.”

“Well, he does drive the snow truck...”

“Ayup!” Mose exhaled a plume of bluish grey smoke. “Guess, it can’t be helped. Somebody’s gotta shovel this damn stuff. Sure ain’t gonna get none of them lazy yowens to do it.” He looked at me, embarrassed. “Present company excluded.”

As usual, I shrugged off his barbs. Clayton said, “Melissa, the waitress down at The Village Diner, has sprouted horns and a tail.”

“Well, that’s a new one.”

“Looks rather fetching on her.”

We stood quietly for a few moments, side by side, watching as snow continued to fall and gusts of mad music floated on the wind. Miss Larsh, the village’s elderly librarian, walked past the window, dressed in a ratty, tartan housecoat and a pair of snow boots, carrying a dead cat by its tail. Her dinner, I figured.

“Sure wish it’d quit snowing,” I sighed.


Several weeks later, I drove past Sacred Grove Church, having just eaten a rather poor supper of boiled dog and rice down at the diner and I was feeling a bit more down than usual. No supplies had made it into the village since the onset of the snow and vittles were getting scarce. I had a feeling boiled dog might become a delicacy if things kept up much longer.

Visibility on the narrow street was down to almost zero so I kept the car’s beams on high and my speed under fifteen. Which was lucky when a figure staggered into the street in front of my car.

Cursing, I slammed on my brakes. For a second it was touch and go on whether I’d miss the guy or plaster him all over my hood. Lucky for him, the car skidded to a stop mere inches from his legs.

Even in the pale glow of my headlights, I could read the fear on the man’s face. I also realized I knew him; he was one of those southern immigrants Mose was always going on about. His name was Grady and he worked as a janitor over at the school; a pleasant, gentle old man, he liked to entertain the children with stories of life in the auld country.

“Help me, please. They’re gonna kill me.”

I reached for the handle of my car, ready to hop out and offer assistance, but had barely cracked the door when a half dozen robed men carrying torches dashed out of the dark, and surrounded the frightened old man.

“Outlander, foul alien, you have been judged and found guilty,” one of the robed men said, shaking his finger at Grady.

Although, buried in thick robes, their faces distorted in the dark, I recognized each of Grady’s accusers. Their normally pleasant, benevolent faces twisted into masks of rage and fear. Some, like Clayton Poole, had tentacles growing from their faces, others were developing lesions that appeared to be causing the skin to slough off. The apparent leader, the one pointing and shouting at Grady, was none other than Randolph Carter—now a malformed hunchback with a pair of curling ram horns protruding from his forehead.

Being of a naturally cowardly bent, I eased my car door shut and watched, dumbfounded as the men grabbed the howling southerner by his arms and hauled him back towards the church. I could hear them shouting, “Burn the outlander, burn the stinking alien.”


The next day, after relating the night’s incident to Mose, I asked, “Reckon they really burned old Grady?”

“Most likely. Heard they’re burning all the foreigners. They been hauling them out to the blasted spot in the Old Forest, where the gallows used to be and setting ‘em afire.”

“Shoot, that’s awful.”

“Yup. Never cared for those pagan bastards myself, but that ain’t no way for any man to die, no matter what planet he’s from.”


The snow finally stopped a few days later, but those strange purple clouds remained, like malingering pyschopomps waiting to lead the dead village to the underworld. I decided to take advantage of the break in the weather and walk to work. As I stepped out of my apartment, I thought I could smell the rancid scent of burning flesh coming from the direction of the Old Forest. I shivered at the thought of the charred, blackened corpses lying upon their funeral pyres, but to be honest, it also made me hungry. I hoped Mose thought to bring donuts or something to nosh on.

Down Main Street, an impromptu parade had broken out, so I stopped for a moment to watch it pass. Townspeople, decked out in their new flesh, danced and spun in time to the weird, carnival music coming from the calliope that sat atop a heavy, wood wagon. The wagon itself was being hauled by a small elephant wearing a fez and wouldn’t you know it, old Randolph Carter himself was riding that elephant and playing a hurdy gurdy. I didn’t even know he was musical. Behind the wagon a troupe of mimes and acrobats, performed flips and tricks for the growing audience. It seemed the entire village had come out of hiding for the parade.

A band of misshapen dwarfs dressed as jesters appeared, pounding the same drums that had kept me awake so many nights. I laughed, embarrassed that they’d ever frightened me. Drawing up the rear was a thin, black man on a pair of stilts. From the soles of his size 20 clown shoes to the crown of his top-hat, he must have stood fifteen feet tall. He was dressed in a gaudy red and white striped suit, and a bright orange bow tie at his neck. A pair of huge, white-rimmed sunglasses hid his eyes. Around his neck, hung a shiny, brass saxophone from which he blew a cheery, Dixieland melody. He offered a tip of his hat as he passed, which I returned with a polite bow and flourish.

Mose, curious about the noise, stepped out of his shop and stood next to me. His body had turned grey and doughy and he resembled nothing so much as one of those stone gargoyles that sit on that church over in France.

“Morning Mose,” I greeted my friend and boss.

Mose nodded and looked up at me. “Nice set of horns you’ve got there.”

I reached up and gently stroked my new features. They were still a bit tender but I could feel them hardening up nicely. “Just popped out this morning.”

“Looks like you’re gonna get a Billy goat beard to go along with it. That’s good. Satyr’s are lucky.”

I tugged at the coarse hair sprouting from my chin and smiled.

“Think this means the odd season’s about over?” I asked, gesturing at the parade.

“Naw, this one’s just getting started. Told you this would be a bad one.”

“Well, at least it’s not snowing.”

“Ayup,” Mose said.

Up ahead, we could still hear the calliope playing as the parade headed towards the village fairgrounds. I wondered if there would be rides. I so loved Ferris wheels.