the most awful form of dream … You feel afraid without knowing why. Then
you have the impression that something is acting upon you … you wish to
escape, to get away from the influence that is making you afraid. Then you find
it not easy to escape…
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Michael Rempart parked his rental car along the road on the ocean side of Cape Cod. The sky over the Atlantic was dark with clouds as a storm rolled in.
From this location he could see Wintersgate on a bleak rise near the water’s edge. A few stands of firs stood nearby, their limbs bent and stretching away from the ocean. The massive house was gray and forbidding with a high stone turret on one corner, as if the long-ago builder couldn’t decide between a grand manor or a castle, and ended up with a structure that was neither. Instead, it was monstrous and unsettling.
Sixteen years had passed since Michael last walked its floors of his family home. Sixteen years, during which he gained renown as an archaeologist, and traveled over much of the world, but had never ventured back to Cape Cod. “You aren’t welcome here,” were his father’s last words to him. There was nothing welcoming here; the place itself was threatening.
Now, he stood with shoulders hunched against the biting wind. Forty-two years old, he was tall, with a rangy build and a tan from time spent working remote dig sites. Solitary, with few friends, his coworkers felt he actively discouraged camaraderie. Even on digs where people often grew close, they stayed away as if an unseen barrier lay between them.
He had been that way most of his life, and he attributed it to his upbringing behind the morose walls of Wintersgate. That was why this sudden compulsion to return there made no sense to him. He had no idea why he would want to face the father he had spent his earliest years fearing, and his later years loathing. But he did. He struggled to ignore the feeling. And then his nightmares began.
In every one, he was back at Wintersgate facing his father, his all too present personal demons, and trying to find answers to the questions that had haunted him throughout his life.
In the end, he gave in. And now he was here.
The wind grew fierce as he got into the rental. He ran his hands through wavy, jet-black hair. No sense putting off the inevitable, he told himself. Still, as he started the car for the drive to Wintersgate, he felt a tightness in his chest and a quickening of his pulse over what he was about to face.
William Claude Rempart was at work, as usual, in his laboratory on the second floor of Wintersgate. Shelves with flasks and bottles of minerals, chemicals, reference books, and botched experiments, each carefully labeled, covered the room.
He moved slowly. His hands quivered with age as he gathered the chemicals he needed and placed them on one side of the lab table. Last of all, he picked up a philosopher’s stone, the prime agent of alchemy, and rubbed the stone with his thumb, feeling its warmth, its power. Those ignorant fools who knew nothing about alchemy would think he was caressing a chunk of reddish pink rock. Poor sots, he thought. In his hand, he held the key to life.
William Claude was an alchemist, a position past ages called a sorcerer or a wizard. He knew to be an alchemist meant doing more than mixing chemicals together. Any idiot could do that. It required the ability to imbue one’s creation with a life-force, an ability few people possessed. He believed it was a powerful family trait transmitted from one generation to the next.
Not that William Claude cared one whit about family. He cared about himself, and the aging happening to him. He looked at the sunken flesh of his hands, the sagging skin and brown age marks. His face’s wrinkled skin felt soft and thin, while his shoulders had become stooped. Each day he found it increasingly difficult to stand as straight and tall as he once had. He was eighty-eight years old, which made it imperative he learn to perfect the alchemy he had worked on all his life.
Most people thought the goal of alchemy was to create gold. They were wrong.
Alchemists not only wanted to create gold, the perfect metal that would not rot, but to develop the perfect man, one that would not age. In other words, one who would be immortal.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of rain hitting the windows as a streak of lightning flashed across the sky. Thunder soon followed.
He placed the philosopher’s stone on a solid gold plate on the worktable. He had already prepared beakers of chemicals, and they were in varying stages of development. He picked up the latest vial he had been working on when a stabbing headache struck. He gripped the edge of the table with one hand, his eyes squeezed shut until the pain began to recede. But then another bolt hit like a knife slashing into his temple, and he fell to his knees.
He dropped the vial and a pool of blue liquid puddled before him. In it, he saw his son, Michael. His only living child. He gasped for breath against the pain
“Michael,” he whispered, touching the liquid with his fingertips. He pulled himself to his feet and tried to reach Michael’s thoughts with his mind. As always, he failed. But strangely, although he couldn’t penetrate Michael’s mind, William Claude knew his son was near.
“Finally, it must be working.” He was so pleased he almost smiled.
William Claude’s mind raced as he unlocked the cabinet door and removed a gold-filled elixir. He poured out a tablespoon of potion and drank it. Then he sat as it slowly warmed, enriched, and rejuvenated him. He had waited sixteen years for Michael to come home.
Now, he could put
his plan in place.
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