On Sundays We Read: A Deck the Haunted Halls Anne Rice Remembrance
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
I woke up this morning to find out that Anne Rice, one of my favorite authors of gothic and supernatural fiction, passed away at the age of 80. "Interview with the Vampire" was certainly her most well-known book, but she also wrote stories of witches, faerie tales, and, as you'll be able to read down below, werewolves.
We hope you enjoy reading chapter two of "The Wolves of Midwinter," the second novel in the Wolf Gift Chronicles series.
From the Hardcover edition:
"The novel opens on a cold, gray landscape. It is the beginning of December. Oak fires are burning in the stately flickering hearths of Nideck Point. It is Yuletide. For Reuben Golding, now infused with the wolf gift and under the loving tutelage of the Morphenkinder, this Christmas promises to be like no other . . . as he soon becomes aware that the Morphenkinder, steeped in their own rituals, are also celebrating the Midwinter Yuletide festival deep within Nideck forest.
From out of the shadows of the exquisite mansion comes a ghost—tormented, imploring, unable to speak yet able to embrace and desire with desperate affection . . . As Reuben finds himself caught up with the passions and yearnings of this spectral presence and the preparations for the Nideck town Christmas reach a fever pitch, astonishing secrets are revealed, secrets that tell of a strange netherworld, of spirits—centuries old—who possess their own fantastical ancient histories and taunt with their dark, magical powers . . ."
Exciting, isn't it??? We hope you enjoy reading this excerpt as your prepare for your own Midwinter rituals.
The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice Chapter Two
IT WAS TEN O’CLOCK when he reached home, and the house was cheerful, with a lot of the sweet-smelling evergreen garland already around the fireplaces, and the fires going as always, and a scattering of cheerful lamps lighted throughout the main rooms.
Felix was at the dining table, in fast conversation with Margon and Stuart about the plans for Yuletide, a map or diagram spread before them on butcher paper, and a couple of yellow notepads laid out with pens. The gentlemen were in their pajamas and Old World satin-lapel robes, while Stuart wore his usual dark sweatshirt and jeans. He looked like a wholesome American teenager who had wandered into a Claude Rains movie.
Reuben smiled to himself over that little bit of musing. It was wonderful to see them all so animated, so happy in the light of the fire, and to smell the tea and the cakes, and all the fragrances he now associated with home—wax, and polish, and the oak logs burning on the hearth, and of course the fresh smell of the rain that always worked its way into this big house, this house with its damp dark corners that surrounded so many yet never really embraced anyone.
The old French valet Jean Pierre took Reuben’s wet raincoat, and immediately set a cup of tea for him at the table.
Reuben sat quiet, drinking the tea, distracted, thinking of Laura, half listening and nodding to all the Christmas plans, vaguely aware that Felix was stimulated about all this, uncommonly happy.
“So you’re home, Reuben,” said Felix cheerfully, “and just in time to hear our grand designs, and to approve, and give us your permission and your blessing.” He had his usual radiance, dark eyes crinkled with good humor, his deep voice running on with easy enthusiasm.
“Home but dead tired,” Reuben confessed, “though I know I can’t sleep. Maybe this is my night to become a lone wolf and the scourge of Mendocino County.”
“No, no, no,” whispered Margon. “We’re all doing so well, cooperating with one another, aren’t we?”
“Being obedient to you, you mean,” said Stuart. “Maybe Reuben and I should go off together tonight and, you know, get in real trouble like the little wolves that we are.”
He made a fist and slammed Margon a little too hard on the arm.
“Did I ever explain to you boys,” asked Margon, “that this house has a dungeon?”
“Oh, complete with chains, no doubt,” said Stuart.
“Amazingly complete,” said Margon, narrowing his eyes as he gazed at Stuart. “And proverbially dark and damp and dismal. But that never stopped some of the expiring inmates from carving grim poetry into the walls. Would you like to spend some time there?”
“As long as I can have my blankie and my laptop,” said Stuart, “and meals on schedule. I might get some rest down there.”
Another mocking growl came from Margon and he shook his head. “ ‘They flee from me that sometime did me seek,’ ” he whispered.
“Oh not another secret poetic communication,” said Stuart. “I can’t stand it. The poetry’s getting so thick in here I can’t breathe.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” said Felix. “Let’s keep it brisk and light and in keeping with the season.”
He looked intently at Reuben. “Speaking of dungeons, I want to show you the statues for the crèche. This will be a splendid Yuletide, young master of the house, if you’ll allow it.”
He went on quickly explaining. December sixteenth, two Sundays before Christmas, was the perfect day for the Christmas festival in Nideck, and the banquet here at the house, for all the people of the county. The booths and shops in the “village,” as Felix more often than not called it, would close at dark, and everyone would come up to Nideck Point for the evening festivities. Of course the families must come, Reuben’s and Stuart’s, and whatever old friends either wanted to include. This was the time to remember everybody. And Father Jim must bring the “unfortunates” from his church in San Francisco, and buses could be provided for that.
Of course the sheriff would be invited, and all the law enforcement officers who had so recently been crawling over the property on the night the mysterious Man Wolf had perpetrated his murderous attack on the two Russian doctors in the front room. And the reporters, they’d all be invited too.
They’d have huge tents on the terrace, tables and chairs, oil heaters, and twinkling lights beyond imagining.
“Picture the entire oak forest,” said Felix, gesturing to the woods beyond the dining room window, “completely festooned in lights, tree limbs positively dressed in lights, and the paths strewn with thick mulch, and strolling mummers and carolers roaming about, but naturally the boys’ choir and the orchestra will be on the front terrace along with the crèche and the bulk of the tables and chairs. Oh, this will be too splendid.” He pointed to the rough diagram he’d drawn on the butcher paper. “Of course the banquet proper will be served in this room, continuously from dark until ten p.m. But there’ll be stations properly positioned at all key points for the mulled wine, the mead, the drinks, food, whatever people want, and then all the house flung wide open so every soul in the neighborhood can see the public rooms and bedrooms of mysterious Nideck Point once and for all. No secrets anymore as to the ‘old place’ where the Man Wolf recently ran rampant. No, we’ll show the world. ‘Welcome, judges, congressmen, police officers, teachers, bankers … good people of Northern California! It was through that front room that the notorious Man Wolf rampaged, and out that library window that he vaulted into the night.’ Say the word, young master. Shall all this be done?”
“He means to feed the entire coast,” said Margon solemnly, “from south San Francisco to the Oregon border.”
“Felix, this is your house,” said Reuben. “It sounds marvelous!” And really it did. It also sounded impossible. He had to laugh.
A fleeting memory came back to Reuben of Marchent describing so happily how “Uncle Felix” had loved to entertain, and he was almost tempted to share it with Felix.
“I know this is soon after my niece’s death,” said Felix, his voice reflecting a sudden shift in mood. “I’m well aware of that. But I cannot see our being dark for this, our first Christmas. My beloved Marchent would never have wanted that.”
“People in California don’t mourn, Felix,” said Reuben. “Not that I’ve ever seen anyway. And I can’t imagine Marchent being disturbed by this either.”
“I think she’d heartily approve of the whole thing,” said Margon. “And there’s a great wisdom to letting the press troop through this house at their leisure as well.”
“Oh, I’m not doing it merely for that,” said Felix. “I want a great celebration, a fete. This house must have new life in it. It must be a shining lamp once again.”
“But surely this crèche—you’re talking about Jesus and Mary and Joseph, right?—but you don’t believe in the Christian God, do you?” asked Stuart.
“No, certainly not,” said Felix, “but this is the way these people in this time celebrate Midwinter.”
“But isn’t it all a lie?” Stuart demanded. “I mean aren’t we supposed to free ourselves from lies and superstition? Isn’t that the obligation of intelligent beings? And that is what we are.”
“No, it’s not all lies,” said Felix. He lowered his voice for emphasis, as if gently imploring Stuart to consider things differently. “Traditions are seldom lies; traditions reflect people’s deepest beliefs and customs. They have their own truth, don’t they, by their very nature?”
Stuart was staring askance at him with skeptical blue eyes, his freckles and boyish face as usual making him look like a rebellious cherub.
“I think the Christmas myth is eloquent,” Felix continued. “Always has been. Think of it. The Christ Child was from the first a brilliant symbol of the eternal return. And that’s what we’ve always celebrated at Midwinter.” His voice was reverent. “The glorious birth of the god on the darkest night of the year—that’s the essence of it.”
“Hmmm,” said Stuart with a little mockery. “Well, you do make it sound like more than Christmas wreaths in malls and canned carols in department stores.”
“It’s always been more than that,” said Margon. “Even the most commercial trappings of the malls today reflect the old pagan ways and the Christian ways woven together.”
“There’s something nauseatingly optimistic about you guys,” said Stuart seriously.
“Why,” asked Margon. “Because we don’t mope about lamenting our monstrous secrets? Why should we? We live in two worlds. We always have.”
Stuart was puzzled, frustrated, but in general coming around.
“Maybe I don’t want to live in that old world anymore,” said Stuart. “Maybe I keep thinking I can leave it behind.”
“You don’t mean that,” said Margon. “You’re not thinking.”
“I’m all for it,” Reuben said. “It’s usually made me sad in the past, carols, hymns, the crib, the whole thing, because I never much believed in anything, but when you describe it that way, well, I can live with it. And people will love it, won’t they?—I mean all this. I’ve never been to a Christmas celebration quite like what you’re planning. In fact, I seldom go to Christmas celebrations of any kind.”
“Yes, they will love it,” said Margon. “They always have. Felix has a way of making them love it, and making them want to come back year after year.”
“It will all be done right,” Felix said. “I have just enough time, just enough, and money will be no obstacle this first year. Let the better planning come next year. Why, maybe this year, I’ll try more than one orchestra. We should have a small one out there in the oaks. And of course a string quartet in here in the corner of this room. And if I can get a fix on how many children are coming …”
“Okay, noblesse oblige, I get it,” said Stuart, “but my mind’s on being a Morphenkind, not serving eggnog to my old friends. I mean what has all this to do with being a Morphenkind?”
“Well, I’ll tell you right now what it has to do with it,” said Margon sharply, eyes flashing fiercely on Stuart. “This fete will be two Sundays before Christmas Eve, as Felix has explained. And it will satisfy the desires of your respective families as to all holiday commemoration. It will do more than that. It will give them something splendid to remember. And then on December twenty-fourth, there must be no one here but us, so that we can celebrate the Yule as we’ve always done.”
“Now this sounds interesting,” said Stuart. “But what exactly do we do?”
“There’s time to show you,” said Felix. “If you walk northeast of the house for approximately ten minutes you’ll come to an old clearing. It’s surrounded by large stones, very large stones, in fact. There’s a little creek running beside it, off and on.”
“I know that place,” Reuben said. “It’s like a rude citadel. Laura and I found it. We didn’t want to climb over the boulders at first, but we found a way inside. We were so curious about it.” A flash of memory: the sun slicing through the canopy of branches, the great floor of rotted leaves, and saplings rising from old tree stumps, and the hunkering and uneven gray boulders covered in lichen. They had found a flute there, a little wooden flute, a lovely thing. He didn’t know what had become of it. Surely Laura had it. She’d washed it in the creek and played more than a few notes on it. He heard the sound suddenly, faint, mournful, as Felix went on.
“Well, that is where we celebrated our rites for years,” Felix explained, his voice as always patient and reassuring as he looked from Stuart to Reuben. “There are no remains now of our old bonfires. But that is where we gather, to make our circle, to drink our mead, and to dance.”
“ ‘And the hairy ones shall dance,’ ” said Margon wistfully.
“I know that phrase,” Stuart said. “Where does it come from? Sounds deliciously creepy. Love it.”
“Title of a short story,” said Reuben, “and haunting words.”
“Go further back,” said Felix, smiling. “Page through the old Douay-Rheims Bible.”
“Right,” said Reuben. “Of course.” Reuben quoted from memory, “ ‘But wild beasts shall rest there, and their houses shall be filled with serpents, and ostriches shall dwell there, and the hairy ones shall dance there: And owls shall answer one another there, in the houses thereof, and sirens in the temples of pleasure.’ ”
A little approving laugh came from Felix, and Margon gave a small laugh as well.
“Oh, you so love it when the genius here recognizes some arcane quote or word, don’t you?” said Stuart. “The literary prodigy strikes again! Reuben, the star of the Morphenkindergarten class.”
“Take a lesson from him, Stuart,” said Margon. “He reads, he remembers, he understands. He stores up the poetry of the ages. He thinks. He meditates. He advances!”
“Oh, come on,” said Stuart. “Reuben’s not a real guy. He came off the cover of Gentlemen’s Quarterly.”
“Sigh,” said Reuben. “I should have left you out there in the wilds of Santa Rosa after you mauled your stepfather.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” said Stuart, “but you know I’m kidding, man. Come on. Seriously, what’s your secret for remembering things like that? You have a card catalog in your head?”
“I have a computer in my head, just like you do,” said Reuben. “My dad’s a poet. And he used to read Isaiah out loud to me when I was a kid.”
“Isaiah!” said Stuart in a deep voice. “No Maurice Sendak or Winnie the Pooh? But then of course you were destined to grow up to be a Man Wolf, so the usual rules didn’t apply.”
Reuben smiled and shook his head. Margon gave a low growl of disapproval.
“Morphenkindergarten,” said Margon. “I think I rather like that.”
Felix was paying not the slightest attention. He was looking again at his Christmas diagrams and lists.
Reuben was beginning to see this festival, and he warmed to it the way he’d warmed to this house as soon as he’d come to know it.
“Isaiah!” Stuart continued to scoff. “And you godless immortals dance in a circle because Isaiah said to do it?”
“Don’t make a fool of yourself,” cautioned Margon. He was annoyed. “You’re missing the point entirely. We were dancing in our circle at Midwinter before Isaiah came into the world. And on that night, we will mourn Marrok, who’s no longer with us—one of our own whom we’ve lately lost—and we will welcome you—formally—you and Reuben and Laura into the company.”
“Wait a minute,” said Stuart, jolting Reuben out of his reverie. “Then Laura’s decided? She’s going to be with us!” He was elated. “Reuben, why didn’t you tell us?”
“Enough for now,” said Felix gently. He rose to his feet. “Reuben, you come with me. As master of the house, you need to see a few more of the cellar chambers belowstairs.”
“If they’re dungeons, I wanna see them!” Stuart said.
“Sit down,” said Margon in a low ominous voice. “Now pay attention. We have more work to do on these plans.”
Thank you to Molly Maka for sharing the video above. Anne Rice asked Mary Fahl to create the song for the audio book of Wolves of Winter and it's absolutely gorgeous.