A Circle of Celebrations is a collection of eight of New York Times bestselling author Jody Lynn Nye's short stories about holidays throughout the year. From Mardi Gras to Christmas, she lends her light touch to tales about sins and Santa Claus, sunflowers and spirits, thanksgiving and talking dolls. Her tales of past, present and future that will give new meaning to old traditions.
Celebrations help us to mark moments in time that are meaningful, some for religious reasons, others cultural and historical. New York Times bestselling author Jody Lynn Nye has written about holidays from many points of view, in this world, in another; in the past, present and future. What they have in common is that we choose to come together for these festive events to discover joy and mystery. These holiday-themed stories are collected here for the first time.
Prolific writer, generous teacher, and a remarkable lady. Last August at DragonCon, we had lunch with Jody and her husband Bill Fawcett (crowded in a busy food court with thousands of convention attendees). My wife and I had just been guest instructors at Jody’s writing seminar, talking about our publishing house, and (it was unexpected, I swear!) by the end of the lunch we walked away with an agreement to publish a whole lot of Jody’s books! When I told her about the Holiday Fantasy bundle, she put together a new book especially for us—this is the only place you can get A Circle of Celebrations. – Kevin J. Anderson
"You will have to read the book to find out how all these issues are dealt with. Though I can assure you it will be well worth the time spent doing so, as I found it hard to put down. A thumping good read!!"–
"Interstellar crime syndicates, political conspiracies, smuggling and fortunetelling combine in "Fortunes of the Imperium," to deliver lighthearted, entertaining farce."–Mark Lardas
"The latest work in this series—Myth-Quoted—weaves together these multiple influences, enabling Nye to create a work that has engaging characters and that is light-hearted without being fluff."–Fantasy Matters
"Jody Lynn Nye's Portrait Of A Lady In A Monocle is one of several stories in the collection featuring a female scientist, showing how Victorian society may have developed as well as its technology. The lady in question is portrayed in a realistic manner, not imbued too much with modern manners and the rest of society is left authentically chauvinistic. Numerous ingenious inventions make it a fun little tale."–Fresh Fiction
Wash Away the Sins
The mellow clip-clopping of the horse's hooves on the cobblestone pavement sounded perfect amidst the iron curlicues and multicolored paint of the buildings looming on either side. The driver of the open landau grinned through his thick, neat, blond beard. He wore a suit that harkened back two centuries, but the velvet of the coat was as smooth and pristine as the day it was woven, and the folded cravat shone white at his throat.
"Pride of New Orleans!" he shouted. "Come and see the finest city in North America, bar none! The tou-a be leavin' from whatever street corner you standin' on. Where y'at? Pride of New Orleans tou-a! How about you, little lady? You and your friends, fifty dollars?" He tipped the stem of his whip to the brim of his top hat in a little salute.
The girls in the t-shirts giggled and clutched their plastic Hurricane cups. They shook their heads. Pride gave them a grin and drove on. No need to grab for a few tipsy souls now. The time for the great gathering was later on. The parades had yet to start.
He sniffed the air. His fellow Gluttony was somewhere about. The overwhelming smell of food and drink that saturated the air over the odor of unwashed humans, tobacco, vomit and mold wasn't due to the restaurateurs and bar owners kicking it into high gear. Gluttony couldn't help but reek of his obsession no matter where he went. Most of the people in the streets were strangers. They didn't realize that the French Quarter didn't usually smell like that. Otherwise they might take warning.
He turned into Rampart and made a quick right down St. Ann's toward Jackson Square. The streets were full of tourists laden with throws and locals in costume. That pleased him. Should be a good day.
The other Manifestations must have thought so, too. He spotted Greed, that skinny minx in her designer jeans and tight camisole, following a couple of teenaged boys from up north as they moved just a little too casually through the elbow-to-elbow crowd past a store along the northeast side of Jackson Square. Her eyes changed from hazel to gold as they snagged a few throws off the nearest display and stuffed them up under their t-shirts. The expensive ones were in plain view of the proprietor, a round-bellied black man in his fifties with his arms crossed over his chest. Greed dropped back, stricken. They weren't up to her standards.
Small stuff, Pride thought haughtily. Chickens. If they'd been serious about it, distracted the owner, pulled a little fast-talking, they could have had the twenty-dollar necklaces, at a minimum. He felt sorry for Greed. She had tried, but the material was just not there. He looked at the grand clock at the other end of the square. Its hands had nearly met at the top. Only twelve hours to go, and neither one of them was doing much of a job.
They were not there on their own impulse. The Big Guy had a sense of humor about his most beloved creation, humankind. It pleased Him to send the personifications of the most deadly sins to tempt mortals into a state of disgrace.
The strains of a jazz band struck up in the distance. Pride turned his horse toward Bourbon. This was the moment he had been waiting for. If he couldn't snare a few souls who were pride-ridden beyond help on board those floats, then he wasn't much of an absolute. He needed to instill an overweening belief in their own superiority, so they would have something to repent come midnight and Ash Wednesday. Those souls – their souls – depended upon it. By exaggerating the small sins that everyone carried inside themselves, the Manifestations made it easier to recognize them, rue them, and put them aside for good. They would be washed clean for another year. If they resisted sinning, so much the better for them. An experienced and repentant soul made a better angel than a stifled hermit. If not, the devil was waiting, and he had gotten a lot more unrepentant souls than he deserved over the last few years. Come life's end, unwary mortals would find themselves in Hell, sunk down by a load of sin they hadn't bothered to get rid of when they had the chance. Pride had been there more than once, and never wanted to go back. The devil himself wasn't a bad fellow – in fact, he was pretty good company, and more honest than any of his unwilling guests – but just like in real estate, it was all about location. Heaven wasn't just about having the good things, but their proximity. Proximity was the reward. In Hell, all those good things were there, but just out of reach: food, water, shelter, comfort, love. Forever. Pride shuddered. Best to keep as many souls as he could from having to suffer the deprivation. He wanted them to get down on their knees and pray on Wednesday for forgiveness, even if their only prayer was, "Dear God, I am so sorry I drank all those Hurricanes. If you take away this hangover, I swear I will never do that again."
Pride's job hadn't been so hard in the past. People he tempted confessed more readily to their sins. He put it down to less enthusiastic church-going and a belief that nothing they did had any consequences. Katrina had pushed people back to the congregations in droves once they had lost everything, but they were drifting away again, even though they were still unsatisfied and unfulfilled. It was strange, but humanity felt as if it was dead inside. They came to New Orleans and Mardi Gras to try and feel alive. These were the ones Pride hoped he could reach. He touched his crop to his horse's flank to hurry her up. He didn't want to miss the Rex parade. That was the big one.
Pride drove his beautiful carriage into a nook on Bourbon Street that to mortals looked no larger than a mail slot, and emerged into a sunlit courtyard surrounded by white marble walls and fluted pillars. New Orleans was full of passages into the real world. This was the entrance to his domain. There was room enough for fifty carriages inside, or anything else he wanted stowed there, though he had no need of storage space. His horse dislimned in a burst of brilliant white light, and the carriage dissolved in shadows. He could summon anything he wanted into being, temporarily or permanently, a skill he admitted he was proud of. Over his shoulder, he noticed a twenty-something young man with dark skin who had followed him in. The youth looked at the place where the horse and carriage had stood, then at the glass in his hand, and scrambled back out of the entrance. Pride grinned.
Pride took his place at the top of the parade route so he could see every single float that passed, every band, every dancer. Envy was the one who had started the contest among the Manifestations for each to get as many souls secured as he or she could. Greed and Gluttony had rushed to second the notion. Pride usually won the contest at festivals, because they were usually celebrations of a mortal's affiliations, whether of ethnicity, gender or interest. He and Anger shared the honor at political conventions. That almost made up for Greed's absolute hold on Christmas. He could see her taking her place about half a block down, with a good view of a three-story house with iron railings where shapely female exhibitionists were already flashing their breasts at the crowd. Up and down went the scanty t-shirts, to the delighted roars of men and not a few women and Lust. The big, well-built male Manifestation was red-faced with pleasure. He had a girl in each arm. His hands traveled up and down their bodies, bringing them to writhing, near orgasmic pleasure. They didn't care who saw them. Lust did a thriving trade in alleyway sex during Mardi Gras as well as the flashers, not to mention the strip clubs and professional hookers who plied their wares in doorways and windows around the Quarter. Pride could already see the glow, invisible to mere humans, that said Lust was having a productive day.
Sloth was somewhere around, accumulating followers of his own. He loved the parade-goers because they were there to enjoy themselves by doing the least possible and still have the most fun. The entertainment was there for them to enjoy without having to lift a finger. The weather was good, and you barely had to stretch out a hand to secure a drink, or a bead necklace, or a partner to dance with. Pride felt the easy pleasure of Sloth's influence spread out over the crowd. New Orleans's longtime motto was "Laissez les bon temps roulez," or, translated from the local Franglish, "Let the good times roll."
And roll on they did.
The jazz bands of New Orleans had been legendary, and rightly so. After the hurricane, musicians had been slow to return, but there were plenty of them this year. The lead float of the Rex parade was led by a cadre of horns and woodwinds, all in the hands of old and middle-aged men, most of them African-American, dressed in sherbet-colored satin suits with derby hats to match, dancing and jiving as they progressed along Bourbon.
Behind them came the face of a dragon. It looked fierce and proud, painted in rainbows of color but predominantly the purple, green and gold of Mardi Gras, and sparkling with rows and swirls of lights that blinked and rolled in rhythm, making the dragon look as if he was dancing to the music. Above the face, the king and queen of Rex, resplendent in white satin and masked in feathers, waved to the crowd from the lofty perch of their float; their court, also gorgeously dressed, arrayed around them also waved. The King of Rex and his consort had been chosen from among their krewe as the supreme embodiment of justice and authority. Their very stance showed how much they enjoyed their position of honor. Pride drank in their self-esteem and fed it back to them in waves.
Live for it, he told them. Bask in it. You deserve every moment of it. You are better than all of those who worship you. The king's back straightened, and the queen's long, slender neck seemed to lengthen further. Good, Pride thought. That'll hold you through the day. He saw them on their way, glowing with ego. His talent worked best on those most receptive to it. Envy couldn't touch them. They were real royalty for this day.
Lust had chosen the same couple as a focus. His hot red energy surrounded and suffused the court. A few of the princesses shifted uncomfortably on their flower-strewn benches. The king and queen eyed one another from behind their masks, their glances promising a dynastically good time later on. Pride grinned.
Greed hopped up and down on her narrow spike heels, beckoning the court to throw beads to her. She and those around her she had charmed were already festooned with enough sparkling throws to break their backs, but they must have more, armloads more. She worked her wiles upon the crowd, until they were shrieking in expectation at the riders on the float, demanding necklaces and doubloons. Pride watched with caution. Another of Envy's contests was to see how many humans they could take away from one another. Pride found it counterproductive and seldom participated in it. Sloth, flabby and proud of it, could rarely be bothered to fight for mortals. He lounged on a second-floor balcony with a host of onlookers who were just enjoying the view. Pride couldn't sense Anger anywhere. Mardi Gras was frequently a disappointment to his red-eyed friend, with so many people getting into the spirit of good times. He was pleased to see that the Rex court was unaffected by Greed. Regally, they tossed rope after shining rope of beads and handfuls of gold coins to her minions, enjoying the pleasure they spread.