Below is a sample from my most recent work, The Holiday Stone. It is available on Amazon and elsewhere here.
I was returning from a journey to Barcelona, another exhausting stop on my steadfast quest to find certain apocryphal scrolls pertaining to a lesser known Saint in a pre-Catholic cult of Christ. My search yielded nothing but a sense of disappointment and, I admit, embarrassment. The universities there, while welcoming, eschewed any theories I posited, refusing to even entertain the possibility that this chapter in the non-canonical Bible truly existed. The professors there were too courteous to laugh directly in my face. They had the decency, by God, to wait until I had turned my back. I do not regret the trip, however, as I am used to such suspicion and skepticism. I do, however, regret returning so early, as a few days on the beach would have surely restored my harried and frayed nerves after so much tedious study. If that had been the case, then I would not have come home in time to act on that fateful letter from Doctor Woodstrom.
I remembered the good Doctor, of course. He had instructed me in the fields of human anatomy and physic when I was just a fledgling medical student, but it wasn’t until I took his elective course in experimental medicines that we actually bonded. We would sit in his office over tea and brandy and discuss his research into ancient methods of healing, which naturally led us to conversations on shamanism and associated atavistic mysteries, until our shared scholarly passion for occultism (heretofore a solitary, clandestine enthusiasm) became our primary obsession. The surprising seriousness with which this esteemed man of science indulged the fantastical imagination and dubious theories of one of his medical students gave me an indispensable confidence in the value of these pursuits, but my studies after receiving my degree led me far afield, and I had quite lost touch with Doctor Woodstrom.
So it came as some surprise when I received word from him in that unseasonably crisp springtimeof 1904. I assumed, frankly, that he would long since have passed away, for I knew his nature to be that of a physician, through and through. A good doctor’s energy is all too frequently focused on the health of his patients at the expense of his own. I myself was on the verge of becoming an old man, ever so slightly jaded by the vicissitudes, and those university days seemed very far away, but Woodstrom had always been a good-natured and gentle man…a friend to me, in his way, and I must say that I was not unhappy to hear from him.
I tidied myself up, dishevelled as I was after having spent the day traveling. I took a bath and sent for a simple meal of sausage and sliced bread from the delicatessen below my apartment. I thought to read the letter as I ate, but I instead found myself nodding into a doze over the newspaper. I put myself to bed, saving a focused reading of Woodstrom’s letter for less weary eyes.
In the morning, I consumed the letter more attentively over coffee and boiled eggs, rereading it several times. It wasn’t an unfriendly or anguished dispatch, but it worried me all the same. It read as follows. Bear in mind whilst reading it that English was not the Doctor’s first or even second language:
My dear Simon Holiday,
I hope this letter finds you well. In my memory you have always been my most promising student as your principal notion was to unearth core truths beyond what has already been discovered. I was saddened to hear that you had abandoned your study of medicine and man’s health, although I have heard rumors that you have been intrepidly following other pursuits. Would these perchance be the same pursuits we had once discussed in my office so long ago? If this be the case then I am in need of your assistance. I am currently in the American state of Louisiana, engaged in various fields of study at Elbridge University. I have secured a position for you here if you would so choose it. If you do, I would ask desperately that you bring that artifact left to your inheritance, as it might hold yet some valuable secret. I guarantee that you will find here what you have been searching for all over Europe. Please respond without delay and I will arrange the necessities of your voyage and your room here in New Orleans.
All the best,
I turned his words over and over in my mind. He was speaking with discretion about my interest in the occult and yet very openly about where I could find the answers that I have been looking for. The apparent fact that Woodstrom had some intimate knowledge of my movements around the continent was exceedingly curious. That realization did little to settle the growing unease within my stomach. And yet the suggestion that Elbridge University might hold within its library the apocryphal scroll that I had so fervently been searching for these last few years was too great a temptation to ignore.
But what of the favor he asked of me? I knew at once the artifact he was referring to, yet I could barely recall how he came to know of it. Eventually, I remembered that I did bring the object to his office for his expert inspection. We dipped deeply into the brandy that night and conversed into the small hours until his room was so thick with cigar smoke that I could hardly see. I forget now, of course, the details of our conversation, but the subject throughout was the nature and provenance of the Stone.
The Stone had always been to me a wretched memento that haunted my belongings. I expect that it had haunted my father’s house as well, before and after his passing. I had long since sealed it in a velvet pouch and locked it in the bottom of a chest of winter clothes so that I might only chance to remember its existence once or twice a year, upon wardrobe rotation. It was to this chest that I returned from a wasted day of research at the library.
The texts that I had borrowed, I knew, would offer little to no information that I had not previously gleaned, and my eyes wandered from the script, thinking back to my cursed heirloom. After fortifying myself with a double brandy, I unlatched the chest and rooted underneath coats and scarves until my hands felt velvet. I took the pouch to my study and set it down on my desk. I refilled my brandy and, thinking on old times once more, lit a cigar. I unsheathed the object and weighed it in my hands, inspecting it closely.
It was heavier than one might expect, a burden in both practicality and metaphor. Having the thing too near my eye, however, sent a shiver down my spine and I quickly set it upon my desk. I filled my pipe with tobacco and lit it, feigning insouciance for the benefit of no one but my own unsettled self, blowing smoke rings at the artifact as the flickering lamp-flame imbued it with an eerie semblance of animation.
It was a large stone of crystalline green amber, cut to resemble a tetragonal prism, though flat along the bottom so that it could freely stand. Suspended within the crystal was a necrotic human hand, half skeletal and minus its ring finger entirely. The flame of my lamp danced within the green gem, casting a rainbow of prismatic colors upon my face and the walls around me. I could not help but think that the stone itself was beautiful, ethereally hypnotic in its array of glittering imperfections. The dessicated palm ensconced within the stone cast the mineral beauty into higher relief, creating an effect so mesmerizing and disquieting that the beholder might quite evade the relic’s gruesome implications.
So I stared at the Stone, pondering the Doctor’s proposition. I was loath to admit it, but my research had reached an impasse in Wales. Perhaps some time in America would not only benefit my studies, but also restore the vigor and joi de vivre that had been so lacking in me as of late. A trip would do me good, on professional, personal, and constitutional terms. I had made up my mind. I pushed the garish object out of view as I drew up a letter of acceptance.
As I wrote, the shadows on the periphery of my vision made a flickering mockery of my rational faculties, somehow indicating to my atavistic unconscious the trepidations of a spectral presence. Perhaps it was merely a trick of the lamp’s inconstant flame, its dancing refracted within the crystalline amber— but I could have sworn I saw those wretched fingers ever so slightly twitch.
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