Stories have always played a part in Christmas celebrations and over the next few weeks I would like to share your festive tales… and you can find details of how to participate at the end of the post.
Today author Audrey Driscoll shares two festive excerpts from her action and adventure novel Book 4 of the Herbert West Series – Hunting the Phoenix.
Winter Solstice In the House of the Phoenix
(An Alchemical Allusion)
Summoned at last, I go, wrapped in my cloak of midnight velvet. I bring gifts for the household, and a gift for the chance-met stranger, honouring the ancient law. For the keeper of the door, a distillation of rainbows in a fiery spirit; for his goodwife, the song of a bird caught in crystal. For the stranger, the warmth of my hearth fire in a vessel of amber. For the alchemist, a book of secret wisdom. And for the master of the house, the blind physician, a golden flower, nourished with heart’s blood and watered with my tears.
My footsteps ring on the stones as I approach him. He is not so large as I had imagined, and older, his face lined with years and sorrows, his hair more silver than gold. His clothing is dark and plain against the splendour of the company, but he wears gold spectacles with lenses of emerald. He accepts my gift, smiling as I place it in his hands.
We file in procession to the place of the fire. One by one, our torches are extinguished and we stand together in darkness. From the silence his voice speaks and we answer, chanting the ancient words of faith and hope. Then comes a red glow, faint but strengthening, until by its radiance we see him again, and rekindle our torches from his glory.
Up and up, from the depths to the highest tower we climb, he before us, the vessel of flame, lighting the lamps anew, and the fire at the heart of the house. In the dance of new light we go singing to the feast, to lay our cares aside and come together in joy. For among us is the one who has died and lives again, radiant, rejoicing until the night ends in the red dawn of the new sun.
Last Greeting From Kingsport
I got an invite to a shindig last night, at Phoenix House, up on the hill. I wore my best black velvet duds. Good thing, ’cause everyone was togged to the nines. I brought presents, like you’re supposed to: rainbow liqueur for the guy at the door, crystal chimes for his missus, and a glowing coal in a brass pot to keep the beggar warm. For the old alchemist up there, a book of secret mumbo-jumbo; and for the man himself, that doctor folks say is blind, I brought my golden flower, the one that took seven years to bloom and nearly killed me.
He’s not such a big guy up close – kind of old and dressed plain, except for those emerald specs. I think he liked my present, but who knows. “A kindred spirit,” he said. “You will join us here before long.” And he smiled.
Then the lights went out and we all got torches and trooped down to the cellar. We doused our torches and stood by the rocks in the dark, breathing. Some party this is, I was thinking, when he started to sing and we all joined in, even me, who didn’t think I knew the words. After a while there came a little glow. It got stronger, until it was like a star in his hands, and we lit our torches from it.
We went up and up, into every room, lighting candles and lamps. Then the party – mountains of food and rivers of drink, like I never saw in my life. What a night! Music and singing and dancing until the sun came up, all new and red. He was everywhere with us, the wildest of all. (I don’t think he’s really blind, you know).
Merry Christmas to you and yours, and I hope the New Year is a good one. But I’m going back up there now, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.
One of the reviews for Hunting the Phoenix.
So speaks Charles Milburn near the end, when he and Alma are contemplating writing the story of Herbert West/Francis Dexter. I can’t argue with that sentiment!
Reading this book is definitely a powerful experience. However, I think I would have enjoyed it even more and comprehended it better if I were more knowledgeable about alchemy. It’s never been a subject that interested me; I’ve always viewed it (when I thought about it at all) as a primitive footnote to the history of “real” science. But I can concede that alchemy makes an excellent “crucible” for a paranormal plot. After all, all SF writers employ futuristic fictional science in order to move their plots along; why not utilize archaic fictional science?
A noteworthy aspect of this book is the author’s skill in evocative description. She really knows how to set a scene and create a mood; furthermore characters appear, take shape, and are molded in front of your very eyes. Here are only a few examples:
From the Prologue section: “Last night I dreamed again of Provincetown in the summer of 1939, seven years ago. A silver pink sunrise off the Cape in August. The taste of peach juice on his lips, his arms holding me as he dances us out of the world. The legacies of one who was born of fire and has returned to it.”
“My thoughts dissolved into a whirl of light, colour, and sound – the strange dissonances and harmonies of the two instruments, the copper-haired child with her birdlike song, the candlelit procession from darkness to light, the Christmas tree with its suns, moons, roses and dark orbs. And in the center of it all, our enigmatic host …”
And when Alma first starts to write poetry: “I sat in my quiet, rose-scented study, scribbling in fits and starts, stalking ripples of my own emotions as the hunter stalks his prey, fishing for feelings and catching them in a net of words.” On that subject, this book contains some remarkable poetry; the author displays a fine comprehension of that literary form.
Dreams and hallucinations also play a mesmerizing role in “Hunting the Phoenix,” and the author skillfully uses flashback techniques to relate earlier events. Most loose ends from the three earlier volumes are tied up, although there are still a few things I wonder about, especially what became of the John Hocks demon, who appears near the end of v.1
I strongly recommend this book and the three previous volumes in the series, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, She Who Comes Forth.
A selection of other books by Audrey Driscoll
Read the reviews and buy the books: Amazon US
Read more reviews and follow Audrey on: Goodreads
About Audrey Driscoll
I grew up reading books, and became interested in making stories myself. I worked out scenes and bits of dialogue, and made my friends act out little dramas based on my favourite book at the time – Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.
With that background, it was inevitable I would become a writer. It just took a while. After establishing a career as a librarian – first at the University of Saskatchewan and then at the Greater Victoria Public Library in British Columbia – I had a meaningful encounter with H.P. Lovecraft’s character Herbert West.
Strangely fascinated by HPL’s corpse-reanimating physician and his friend the nameless narrator, I built a set of stories around them. In 2000, I was compelled to write them down. The result was The Friendship of Mortals and three more novels, which constitute the Herbert West Series. Self-publishing became respectable and relatively easy just in time to rescue me from the sad fate of the Unpublished Writer.
Reluctant to abandon the characters I had spent so much time with, I wrote and published several short stories as supplements to the Herbert West Series. In 2018, I published She Who Comes Forth, a novel that may be considered a sequel to the series.
My other interest is gardening a patch of earth on southern Vancouver Island. I post about that at least as often as I do about books and writing — with pictures! To me, writing and gardening are forms of alchemy — a mysterious process of creating excellence from the chaos of the world.
Connect to Audrey
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/”Audrey%20Driscoll”
My thanks to Audrey for sharing her Christmas short stories with us…
I would also like to invite you to share your fiction here too in December with one of your stories.
- I know how busy everyone is at this time of year, but perhaps you have a short story you have already published on your own blog and would like to share with another audience over here.
- I will leave the word count to you but as an approximation I would be happy with stories between 500 and 1,500 words…if longer then I am sure it will not be a problem.
- If you are an author I will also be delighted to share the link to buy your work on Amazon.
- Some of you are already in the Cafe and Bookstore and I have all your details, so no need to include again, but if you are new to the blog then I will need some information.
If you are already in the Cafe and Bookstore then please send the following to email@example.com:
- The link to your short story if already on your blog
- Or, your word document of your story.
If you are new to smorgasbord the please send the following to firstname.lastname@example.org:
- The link to your short story if already on your blog
- Or, your word document of your story
- Your amazon author page link for your books (so I can find your bio and book covers)
- Links to your blog and two other main social media links.
Thanks for dropping in and I look forward to hearing from you soon with your stories. As always your feedback is very welcome.