Curatrix Maxima Aileen O’Shannon is a survivor of Jack Oswald’s ill-fated expedition to study the mysterious hell holes that opened up along Alaska’s North Slope. She appears to be in her early twenties with long flaming-red hair, green eyes, and a smattering of freckles.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): Welcome, Ms. O’Shannon. To begin with, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
O’Shannon: My full name is Curatrix Maxima Aileen O’Shannon, and I am an officer in the military arm of the Tutores Contra Infernum.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): I’m not familiar with that organization. The name sounds Latin to me. What can you tell us about it?
O’Shannon: The name translates roughly as “Guardians Against Hell.” The Order, as we informally call it, is an ancient secret society that for millennia has protected humans from demonic incursions. As a Guardian, I am responsible for finding and killing any demons that appear in my area of responsibility, which is currently Alaska, The Yukon, and British Columbia.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): Demons?
O’Shannon: Magical demonic creatures from Hell that invade our world to capture slaves and generally kill people and spread terror. High demons such as devils and imps, and low demons such as hellhounds and gargoyles.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): Wow. That must be a terrifying job.
O’Shannon: It can be. Mostly though, it can be rather boring, waiting for the next incursion. Sometimes weeks, even months, pass by between assignments. The rest of the time, I spend studying the latest research in demonology and combat training.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): How about your family life? Are you married? Do you have children? Do you have any brothers and sisters, and what about your parents?
O’Shannon: I was an only child, and my parents were both murdered by demons. As for my husband and children, they died a great many years ago.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): Many years ago? You’re kidding? You don’t look like you can be any older than in your mid-twenties. Thirties, tops. Just how old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?
O’Shannon: I was born in what is now Ireland during the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, some 1,700 years ago. I was briefly married during the Middle Ages, but after watching my husband, children, and grandchildren grow old and die, I decided that marriage was too painful and incompatible with my duties in The Order.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): How is that possible? What are you? Are you human or are you an immortal?
O’Shannon: I’m as human as you are. My advanced age is due to a combination of a powerful rejuvenation elixir I must take every few days combined with the effects of my amulet. However, even they have been unable to keep me young forever. What you see is my glamour spell. Without it, I would appear as I truly am, a vain old woman with the body of a healthy, spry 80-year-old.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): What can you tell me about your amulet? Can I see it?
O’Shannon: Of course. As you can see, it consists a devilstone – that is the disk-shaped red crystal – surrounded by a gold ring inscribed with the name of The Order.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): Devilstone? That seems like a strange name for the major component of a magic amulet belonging to someone who fights demons for a living.
O’Shannon: Actually, there is a very good reason for that name. Every devil has a devilstone attached to his skull at the base of his brain. These devilstones are the source of their magic powers, and by harvesting them from the devils we kill, we are able to use the demons’ magic against them.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): It must be hard, having such a long life without a family to share it with. Nothing but your work, finding and killing demons, year after year, century after century. How do you deal with the loneliness?
O’Shannon: It is not so bad. I have my friends and colleagues. Curatrix Tabitha Freeman and I have been close ever since the day I rescued her from a demon incursion at the plantation where she was a slave. She was a cook in the big house and managed to cut off the head of one of the devils with a meat cleaver. She became a good apprentice and an even better friend.
- Iris (PC Book Reviews): Well, I want to thank you, Curatrix Maxima O’Shannon. This has been very interesting. Is there anything else you would like to share with us before you go?
O’Shannon: Just a bit of advice. Sometimes, the things that go bump in the night are real. If you ever see a devil, imp, hellhound, or gargoyle, you should run away as fast as you can. Leave the demon hunting to the professionals; it is what we’re here for.
A computer geek by day, Donald Firesmith works as a system and software engineer helping the US Government acquire large, complex software-intensive systems. In this guise, he has authored seven technical books, written numerous software- and system-related articles and papers, and spoken at more conferences than he can possibly remember. He is also proud to have been named a Distinguished Engineer by the Association of Computing Machinery, although his pride is tempered somewhat worrying whether the term “distinguished” makes him sound more like a graybeard academic rather than an active engineer whose beard is still more red than gray.
By night and on weekends, his alter ego writes modern paranormal fantasy, apocalyptic science fiction, action and adventure novels and relaxes by handcrafting magic wands from various magical woods and mystical gemstones. His first foray into fiction is the book Magical Wands: A Cornucopia of Wand Lore written under the pen name Wolfrick Ignatius Feuerschmied. He lives in Crafton, Pennsylvania with his wife Becky, his son Dane, and varying numbers of cats and dogs.
Hell Holes by Donald Firesmith
It’s August in Alaska, and geology professor Jack Oswald prepares for the Fall semester. But when hundreds of huge holes mysteriously appear overnight in the frozen tundra north of the Arctic Circle, Jack receives an unexpected phone call. An oil company exec hires Jack to investigate, and he picks his climatologist wife and two of their graduate students as his team. Uncharacteristically, Jack also lets Aileen O’Shannon, a bewitchingly beautiful young photojournalist, talk him into coming along as their photographer. When they arrive in the remote oil town of Deadhorse, the exec and a wildlife expert hired to protect them from Arctic predators join the team. Their task: to assess the risk of more holes opening under the Trans–Alaska Pipeline and the wells and pipelines that feed it. But they discover that a far worse danger lurks below. When it emerges, it threatens to shatter Jack’s unshakable faith in science. And destroy us all…
“I enjoyed my time in Firesmith’s world. I did not want to leave. I really got a kick out of it, and would happily come back for more. Recommended.”
MJ Kobernus, author of The Guardian: Blood in the Sand
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