After a long voyage through the galaxy, one will certainly be missing the comforts of home. But when Nate Silva, after the adventures of David Neil Lee's The Midnight Games and The Medusa Deep, returns home to Hamilton, Ontario, rest and recovery is not on the menu.
Instead, the city is infested by nightmarish creatures, drawn by the occult ceremonies of The Resurrection Church of the Ancient Gods. There are many-legged dritches, bat-like thrals, flying night-gaunts, and a mysterious, mind-devouring entity called Oracle, and it's up to Nate and his friends Megan, Mehri, and (none other than) H.P. Lovecraft to voyage back into space to free the city—and the earth—from the Great Old Ones.
So opens The Great Outer Dark (Wolsak & Wynn) the final instalment of Lee's Midnight Games trilogy, a three-book love letter to Lovecraft and a delight for both fans of the 20th century master of mythopoeia and those who aren't familiar with Lovecraft's monsters. By setting his books in Hamilton, Lee explores the tension of a once-gritty city's identity through the mythical, all while crafting a rollicking modern monster tale.
We're excited to wrap up our Halloween celebrations this year with our final instalment in Open Book's Spooky Week offerings: an excerpt, courtesy of Wolsak & Wynn) from The Great Outer Dark in which Nate encounters both the mysterious Dr. Eldritch's Cosmic Wonder Circus and the Resurrection Church's gristly warnings to their detractors.
Excerpt from The Great Outer Dark by David Neil Lee:
Ahead of me a car thumped over the tracks, heading from Markle Avenue into the potholed parking lot of the old chain factory/Resurrection Church headquarters where I’d been locked in the basement with a dying Interlocutor – now I knew it as a hihyaghi – and where Cody and I had come face to face with a dritch. I had to laugh – had someone moved into that place? Wait till they found the burrow in the basement and came face to face with what lived in that burrow.
Another car thumped over the tracks. Then another.
The chain-link fences around the old factory were new, glinting silver in the morning sun. Except for the open gate of the front driveway, they ran around the property uninterrupted; the railway gates leading to the loading dock were gone, the tracks blocked by the new fencing reinforced by concrete barricades. Chinks in the building’s brick wall had been patched. The front doors were fixed, and over them a white illuminated sign showed a symbol I’d hoped never to see again, its LED and scrolling text bright and perky against the orange sunset.
TOLD YA THEYD BE BACK
AND GUESS WHAT?
YA BETTER BELEIVE IT!
Your CanLit News
Subscribe to Open Book’s newsletter to get local book events, literary content, writing tips, and more in your inbox
I stopped to look – had to stop, so many cars were bouncing over the tracks on their way into the refurbished compound. In the parking lot, a CHCH crew was setting up a tripod, checking sound levels. As the light faded, cellphones flashed as people took selfies.
What was going on? My first thought was that the Church had gone into direct competition with Sorcerer, erecting their own airship hangar, a hasty construction of billowing blue plastic. But it wasn’t a hangar; it was a circus tent. These people were here for a show. They entered the tent by skirting the old warehouse building and passing under white arches that sported that ubiquitous logo and a proud sign:
SEE THE WONDER!!! BE THE WONDER!!!
DOCTOR EL AND HIS
COSMIC WONDER CIRCUS!!!
AS SEEN ON TV
On each side of the entrance a long white-painted 4x4 timber had been pounded into the ground and crowned by some kind of shapeless artifact or artwork. I didn’t pay much attention to these three-metre posts, letting myself be swept between them as I drifted into the centre of the excited crowd. Then, just like back at the underpass, I heard the buzzing of flies.
The darkness deepened, and lights went on all over the property. I saw that a halo of flies surrounded the top of each post – there on each of them, hung a human head; each with a long gutter spike driven through its protesting mouth into the top of the timber. Shocked, I looked around to see if anyone else was seeing this. But nobody in the crowd seemed to take much notice, except to point and hoot insults as they thronged by.
What the hell was going on here? The 911 operator had told me that a corpse hanging off a railway underpass was business as usual – the only weird thing was that someone would think it was a problem.
Suddenly I cheered up. I chuckled to myself as I walked past. Hey, losers, you screwed up, no second chance! Below each head bloodstained signs read, TRAITOR, UNBELIVER (the Church’s sign-maker clearly had a hard time with “believe”), et cetera.
Then I stopped: What was I thinking? This was horrific. What’s happening?
When I glanced up, I got a shock like being grabbed in the dark. The closest head was looking at me, mouth open in a scream, spike protruding like a devil’s tongue. The face looked right into my eyes and for a moment I thought it was my own face – some young guy, someone like me, someone... I recognized the face.
It was Cody. The head belonged to Cody, my schoolyard nemesis since childhood, the last person I’d been to this building with, months ago, when it was still just an abandoned warehouse with a dritch in the basement. Cody, who told me, “The Old Ones were on our side.” Cody, who spent all his young life in a state of rage and now was pinned in rage forever. Cody, terrified in his last moments, staked like a vampire before the setting sun to warn others not to go where he went, say what he said, do whatever it was he did.
I pushed back a wave of nausea as the crowd swept me through the tent’s welcoming entrance. Why were they all so happy? Inside my head a lot of shouting was going on:
Serves him right! / No one deserves that!
Righteous payback for that loser, Cody! / Why would anyone...?
Next time that happens, I want in! / Those are human heads – heads!
Inside the tent were bleachers and the scents of popcorn and sawdust, overlaid with a stranger smell that made me think of dank tunnels to dark places, and a creature dying, leaving, in place of its life, streaks of fading phosphorescence and words.
The hihyaghi called the Interlocutor had shown me “something that must be seen” – the stars. She’d said, “Sorcerer, too, is a thing... not a thing like me.” What did she mean?
I found a seat on the highest bleacher, at the back in the corner. I watched the crowd that was pouring in, vying with each other to get as close to the front as possible. Sure, they were jerks and losers but... As soon as I started to get alarmed, my thoughts would be drowned out by waves of anger – righteous, satisfying anger – and a dead certainty that this was all, in the end, for a good cause. It was all worthwhile, it was all for Oracle.
Oracle? Who or what was Oracle? I took my head in my hands, wanted to open a door and shine a light into my skull: Who’s in there?
I heard a clatter of steel tanks, and loud whoomps of igniting gas sent hot gusts of propane stink across the tent’s dirt floor. A gridded steel barrier was being folded back to each side of the stage, and around a cavernous trap door that had appeared in its centre half a dozen men with tiger torches had positioned themselves, avoiding the yawning darkness below and trying gingerly not to burn themselves, or each other, or set fire to the tent.
Jimmy, who I knew as the Proprietor’s right-hand man back in Raphe Therpens’s better days, took the floor, microphone in hand, glancing back nervously at the dark opening behind him. A short, heavy-set, dark-haired man, I had to admit Jimmy was looking good in a dark tie and a blue pinstripe suit. He tapped on the microphone, and the noise gradually subsided as people found seats. Then he began.
Excerpt taken from The Great Outer Dark, a novel by David Neil Lee, published by Wolsak & Wynn. Copyright 2023, David Neil Lee. Reprinted with permission.
David Neil Lee is a writer and double bassist. Originally from BC, he spent years in the Toronto art scene and on BC's Sunshine Coast, and currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario. He has just finished a PhD in English at the University of Guelph. In 2012, Toronto's Tightrope Books issued David's first novel, Commander Zero. In 2014, a new and revised edition of David's critically acclaimed jazz book The Battle of the Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and the New York Jazz Field was launched at the New School for Public Engagement in New York City. In 2016, the City of Hamilton awarded the Kerry Schooley award for the book that "best conveys the spirit of Hamilton" to David's Lovecraftian young adult novel, The Midnight Games.