You arrive in the remote village late in the December evening, just as the full moon is rising above the mountains. You’ve traveled so far and for so long that you can’t remember whether the mountains looming above you and ahead of you in the moonlight are the Carpathians, the Rockies, or the Transylvanian Alps.
No matter. You find a single little pub open – the fireplace warming your frozen bones – and the locals are dressed in lederhosen and 19th-Century-style Transylvanian garments and feathered hats. Odd, since they all seem to be speaking in cockney English.
Over drafts of ale, they all warn you to go no further. They all cringe and make an Eastern-Orthodox reversed sign-of-the-cross when you talk of going to the Terror-Author’s Keep.
“No one goes up there without they take a sprig of ‘olly to drive through ‘is heart,” says the innkeeper. “An’ even then, they don’t come back.”
It takes you two hours to find someone who will take you up there in his sleigh and he demands a small fortune. You pay it. Even then, the sleigh driver says he’ll go no further than the crossroads, not near the Terror-Author’s Keep itself. You agree.
“It’s up that mountain to the place where the trees don’t grow no more,” says the sleigh driver, his breath a fog of ale in the air. “Right to treeline on the mountains where the trees get shrunk and wizened, like twisted old men with grabby long fingers.”
“Let’s go,” you say, setting your Gladstone bag next you on the sleigh seat. The driver gives you a thick blanket that smells of horse and sweat. “Put it over you,” he says. “You’ll need it up there.”
Fittingly, you think, the sleigh is pulled not by horses but by two reindeers. Unfortunately, whatever fodder they’ve been feeding these mudders has created many cubic feet of gas, all of which is expelled toward you and your driver during the long climb. The effect is not unlike following a 1958 city diesel-engine bus in an open car.
Finally the crossroads is reached, the driver hurries you out of the sleigh in the dark, and you stand in the snow while his runners slice a half-circle out of the snow and the sleigh disappears back down the faint track you’ve been coming up for hours. He’s eager to leave the vicinity. You can hear the crack of his whip on reindeer butt long after he’s out of sight in the cold darkness.
There is the slightest hint of old sleigh tracks heading up through the trees toward treeline. You slog along in it, the deep snow getting your trousers wet to the knee, but soon the faint track disappears and you’re simply walking through a high-mountain forest. There are no signs of any sort. But far above you and far ahead, there seems to be a faint glow. You posthole toward it, puffing and carrying your Gladstone as you go.
Miles later, just as you hear wolves howling and know that you’re lost and doomed, you see a faint light in the distance. You struggle uphill to it. It looks like . . . like . . . some sort of cracked and lighted Druid stone in the night.
You stagger closer through the snow. Is that a . . . bone . . . in the crevice of this strange monument? The pelvis of a cat? The vertebrae of an elk? The skull of a . . . small child? You shiver as a cold wind blows down from the Divide and shakes snow from branches around you. You posthole closer to the thing.
Just when you’re ready to stumble downhill in hopes of finding the crossroads, knowing that you’ll never be able to hike back to the distant village before you freeze to death, you catch another glimmer of light across the knoll. You head west.
There’s something garland-adorned and lighted ahead. A narrow bridge? No, a pergola. You realize that the wide expanse of snow and ice you’ve been crossing is the fabled Summer Cinema Series yard to the Keep, where outdoor movies are projected every other Saturday of the summer. Those boulders you’d passed on a small rise to your right had been the “cheap balcony seats” places there, as the entire yard had been, precisely for group backyard movie-watching.
But now you have to approach this lighted thing. The full moon is a good guide to the west.
You begin to pass through it and the lights blink off and on, as if sending a signal to someone. Or something.
On the other side of the blinking pergola there is more snowy expanse, but you continue following the moon.
Suddenly a path appears!
It leads you through more forest here right at treeline, but at least the trees here are illuminated.
The path seems to be coming to some sort of rise.
And there it is . . . the Terror-Author’s Keep!
You follow the snowy path downhill and finally get a full view of this Keep. Immediately, you understand one thing about this Terror-Author . .. .
. . . i.e. he doesn’t give a damn about his electric bill.
Knowing from reading Le Figaro that the Terror-Author’s writing offices – he calls it his “Bat Cave” – is on the lower level, you tiptoe through the snow toward those lights, hoping to catch a glimpse of the author at work.
There’s his office! A few more steps and the Terror-Author will be revealed! You know that he works seven-days-a-week and until the wee hours of each morning. He’ll be there, even though it’s far past midnight.
Just a few steps to your left and you’ll see the Terror-Author in the flesh, so to speak. (You’re praying now that the rumors that he writes in the nude are false.) Two more steps. Then a final one . . .
Well . . . poopies! The computer’s still warm, but the Terror-Author’s not there, either in his writing office or the library you can see beyond. Where is he?
You look over your snowy shoulder in anxiety.
No one there but the cold trees. All right, you decide, it’s time to go up those stone steps and find the front door to this hovel. You’ve come to share Christmas cheer and you’re going to share that %^&*@! Christmas cheer with the Terror-Author if it kills you.
Up the curving stone stairway. Puff, pant, step, puff . . . at what altitude is this fershtuffiner place? . . . puff, pant. OK, here’s the little hobbit house.
You kick-step your way to the left to find the entrance to the final staircase. The place seems lit up to celebrate Christmas – but perhaps it’s lighted for some wikkan sacrifice ceremony instead. You approach carefully as you can, Gladstone bag in hand, dragging feet through the snow.
OK, those lighted hedges show a pathway upwards . . .
Ooh, odd interior, but there’s a fireplace crackling in there and it looks warm . . .
Nothing to do now but go bang on the front door. You notice that, because it’s early in December, the Terror-Author and his family haven’t put a large Christmas tree in their visible living room yet, nor even hung the red-bedecked green wreath on the front door, but it’s still moderately inviting as you timorously advance.
Suddenly the door swings wide and a large, misshapen form fills the doorway . . .
MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS, AND THE HAPPIEST OF NEW YEARS TO EVERYONE
FROM DAN SIMMONS, KAREN SIMMONS, JANE SIMMONS GLENN,
TOM GLENN, AND OUR ENTIRE FAMILY.