The Witching Hour

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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Authors: Anne Rice
utterly natural to him. And because he had come from such an alien and otherworldly place, because he was so astonished by the modern world of California, the perspective of the historian was a comfort to him. He liked above all to read well-written books about cities and centuries—books, that is, which tried to describe places or eras in terms of their origins, their sociological and technological advances, their class struggle, their art and literature.
    Michael was more than content. As the insurance money ran out, he went to work part-time with a carpenter who specialized in restoring the beautiful old Victorians of San Francisco. He began to study books on houses again, as he had in the old days.
    By the time he received his bachelor’s degree, his old friends from New Orleans would not have known him. He had still the football player’s build, the massive shoulders and the heavy chest, and the carpentry kept him in fine form. And his black curly hair, his large blue eyes, and the light freckles on his cheeks remained his distinctive features. But he wore dark-rimmed glasses now to read, and his common dress was a cable-knit sweater and Donegal tweed jacket with patches on the elbows. He even smoked a pipe, which he carried always in his right coat pocket.
    He was at age twenty-one equally at home hammering away on a wood-frame house or typing rapidly with two fingers a term paper on “The Witchcraft Persecutions in Germany in the 1600s.”
    Two months after he started his graduate work in history, he began to study, right along with his college work, for the state contractor’s examination. He was working as a painter then, and learning also the plastering trade and hew to lay ceramic tile—anything in the building trades for which anyone would hire him.
    He went on with school because a deep insecurity would not allow him to do otherwise, but he knew by this time that no amount of academic pleasure could ever satisfy his need to work with his hands, to get out in the air, to climb ladders, swing a hammer, and feel at the end of the day that great sublime physicalexhaustion. Nothing could ever take the place of his beautiful houses.
    He loved to see the results of his work—roofs mended, staircases restored, floors brought back from hopeless grime to a high luster. He loved to strip and lacquer the finely crafted old newel posts, balustrades, and door frames. And always the learner, he studied under every craftsman with whom he worked. He quizzed the architects when he could; he made copies of blueprints for further examination. He pored over books, magazines, and catalogs devoted to restoration and Victoriana.
    It seemed to him sometimes that he loved houses more than he loved human beings; he loved them the way that seamen love ships; and he would walk alone after work through the rooms to which he’d given new life, lovingly touching the windowsills, the brass knobs, the silk smooth plaster. He could hear a great house speaking to him.
    He finished the master’s in history within two years, just as the campuses of America were erupting with student protests against the American war in Vietnam and the use of psychedelic drugs became a fad among the young who were pouring into San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury. But well before that he had passed the contractor’s examination and formed his own company.
    The world of the flower children, of political revolution and personal transformation through drugs, was something he never fully understood, and something which never really touched him. He danced at the Avalon Ballroom to the music of the Rolling Stones; he smoked grass; he burned incense now and then; he played the records of Bismilla Kahn and Ravi Shankar. He even went with a young girlfriend to the great “Be In” in Golden Gate Park where Timothy Leary told his acolytes to “tune in, turn on, and drop out.” But all this was only mildly fascinating to him.
    The historian in him could not succumb to

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