By Nisha Addleman
Synopsis: A man awaits his death and the answer to an old family curse.
Based on The Alchemist by H. P. Lovecraft
Content warnings: Alcohol, cigarettes (mentioned), death, murder, ghosts
I have taken up my post in this room, resolute in my decision. I watch the door, the window, the air, knowing not whence it shall come, but only that it shall. It, a mystery to me. Those of us who know of it have only seen the aftermath. A man, chilled to the bone, his eyes open and clothes disheveled. He is gone; there is fear in his empty gaze, perhaps a revolver clutched in his hand.
He is thirty-two.
I, thirty-one, watch the clock as the hours tick by. Soon, the hour of my birth shall be upon me, and
I shall know the hand that carried my ancestor’s fates.
How many men has my lineage seen taken at thirty-two? Too many. I could not say without a study of my family tree. This curse was imparted on us centuries ago, and why no one before me thought to stop it, I do not understand.
I have scoured resources of ages past, men who studied their predecessors’ deaths, how they tried to lift this curse. I know the only way is to let my family name end with me. I have not taken a wife, and the women in my family bore no daughters for many generations now. The men are dead and it is I and I alone.
Watching a clock. Wrapped in a smoking jacket. A whiskey in hand as if awaiting a friend.
This fate is a familiar one, as I have spent much of my life pondering it. As a child, my parents attempted to shield me, but I watched my father and bachelor uncle die the same way and found no one could keep secrets from my incessant questions. My mother relented when I was just twelve, spilling the truth.
At such a young age, the prospect of death frightened me, especially so at the hands of the unknown. Perhaps a disease plagued us, but I learned that was not how disease works. No, it is too rhythmical. What kind of disease takes healthy men at thirty-two, just an hour after they had turned such? It makes no sense; disease does not care about such an arbitrary number.
Despite my confidence it is not related to health, I take care of myself. I eat well, refrain from smoking, and exercise daily. Doctors hail me as a fine specimen of health.
Tonight, I am neither ill nor frightened. More so, curious. I should have an answer soon.
I raise my drink to my lips, taking a sip and feeling the liquid burn down my throat. A reminder: I am still alive. I am still thirty-one.
Oft, I have pondered this mystery. My scientific mind led me down many paths. A toxin in the air, death by suicide, a murderer. I found all implausible, and thus turned my thoughts to the supernatural, no matter how ludicrous it seemed.
I have no experience with anything as such. I do not believe in ghosts or demons or gods, but what other explanation could there be? I have long since run out of options and admit that it must be a curse of some kind. This past year, I stopped my studies. Not because I was no longer curious–no, as you well know now, I am ravenous for answers, but because I found that I was too busy to enjoy life when buried in understanding my fate. From time to time, I would read over my notes, but I picked up other hobbies. I played tennis, read fiction, went to the theater. Enjoyable things I wish I had done more of, but I am determined to die with no regrets.
I spent my life attempting to understand what cannot be understood, but in my final days, I have enjoyed myself.
Just today, I had friends over. We dined together and laughed. I told them not of my fate–though many knew. I saw the sheen in their eyes as they left, knowing it was the last time we would smile together. I left them all with whatever they wanted. If they could carry it, then they should have it. I have no need for my possessions.
Some took small things. Tokens they adored.
One, a woman I had loved deeply and, in return, loved me deeply, took only my favorite book. She knew what would happen. She was the last to leave.
But she would not cry. I had told her of the curse when we confessed our feelings. I had told her I could never marry nor bear children for fear of what would happen. She did not waver.
In that book, I wrote a note:
Should there be a life beyond this, I shall wait. I love you dearly.
I begged she not read it until she was home, as I could not stand to see her cry. I imagine now, as I swirl my whiskey only to watch the legs run down the sides, she clutches the book to her chest and smiles, tears running down her cheeks for she knows, I am forever hers.
The clock strikes and I jump. My drink drops from my hand, spilling itself across the carpet.
To anyone else, age means little. When the hour strikes that we are older, it feels the same, but to me, it is different. This time most of all.
I am thirty-two and the room has gone cold. The fire burns dimmer, fighting with forces unknown. Waiting, I let my eyes rove across the room. Should I see this curse? Perhaps a blinding light that will draw the life from me?
This is, in a sense, a glorious moment. Years of research culminating in an answer. It shall be a great relief to know the truth, for curiosity has plagued me too long. I have never looked forward to death. I enjoy being alive, even when I consumed myself with research into my own fate, and thus, I feel the first nerves creep upon me.
They are in my heart, pounding against my ribs. In my mouth, drying my tongue. Beneath my skin, rubbing my hands against my knees so I might remember I am here. I am alive, still.
For years, I knew when I would die, but now, I do not. Be it seconds or minutes, it is agony to not know. I never knew the precise moment, only that it would be within this hour. I had not thought of that until now.
And I cannot calm myself, no matter how I try. I breathe slowly, but my lungs fight it. I think to stand but my legs will not work. It is a chore to sit and stare at the door. In this moment, I feel as though an assassin has broken into my home, and I wait for them to find me.
“I have come,” she whispers.
I go rigid. I wish to look over my shoulder, whence the voice came, but I cannot. I am afraid, but I am alive.
She circles around me, her skin translucent like lace. Her hair wafting as if ever submerged in water. She is a goddess before me. Beauty, yet a terror such that I wet myself.
She leans in to look at me, a soft smile on her lips.
I know not how, but I find courage and speak. “Who are you?”
“You would not know.”
“No, but I believe I know why you are here. I will not fight it; I ask only to know.”
She straightens, a peculiar look on her face as if she finds me amusing. “You are the bravest I have met. For that, I shall tell you.” She pauses to caress my cheek. “Many years ago, I rejected your lineage. I rejected the hand of your ancestor when he turned thirty-two–his name is long forgotten to me, as I cared not for his advances. I only remember how he held me beneath the water. In my final moments, I swore revenge. No man of his blood would live longer than he. I have kept my word.”
“I shall be your last then,” I say, the fear gone, for she does not deserve this fate. She was not cruel by choice. “‘Twas not my hand that submerged you, but I feel it is my burden nonetheless. May you rest when you are done with me.”
She pauses, her eyes wider than before. “My last?”
I nod my head. “I am the last of this name. The last of his blood.”
It seems, for a moment, she does not understand. For longer than she was alive, she has been dead, carrying out her last wish, but no longer must she do this. “There are no more?”
“No more,” I repeat, as if to comfort her.
And she smiles. She is relieved. “Then let me rest.”
But it is not she who rests alone. It is I, too, for I know now. A curse. A ghost. A woman wronged.
She kisses me, and I watch how she draws me from my body. I am cold, my eyes wide, but I smile.
For I have my answer.
Thank you to so many people for looking over this.
Alan, for always supporting me.
Peter for literally everything from the art to beta-reading.
Kevin for reading anything I put in front of you and always giving me amazing feedback.
Drew for helping me with finicky grammar and always being there.
Tatiana for giving me an amazing final line and amazing feedback, and for being a huge fan and driving force.
Kaylee for hyping me up, your feedback, and being a wonderful person.