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The House of Lucian

The day was dark and gloomy, the sky heavy with clouds pregnant with rain; oppressed by days of uncomfortable carriage riding, an experience yet worsened by our constraining clothing, our spirits mirrored the dismal weather. My small family had been traveling for nearly a week and had by this time found each other’s company to be of the utmost dullness; after the fourth day, the confabulation had all but ceased. This day’s ride had consisted of a silence pierced only occasionally by the bump of the carriage wheels over the odd unexpected stone or rut. At long last we found ourselves at the House of Lucian, the destination we had so eagerly sought. The carriage pulled up short and Thomas retired from the perch from which he had driven the horses, opening the compartment door and facilitating for Ella and myself a more dignified exit. Immediately upon quitting the familiar confines of our humble vehicle, I noticed a peculiar alteration in my usually predictable temperament, an alteration that was mirrored all the more apparently upon the countenances of my husband and daughter. I say peculiar; for there was no ready explanation, usually so quick to jump from the tongue of a scientist such as myself, for this abrupt and unwonted sensation. As one, the three of us gazed in something not unlike awe at the estate before us—at the mansion, surrounded by an air of complete and utter neglect—at the rotting and ivy-covered walls—at the door, barely remaining on its hinges—at the crumbling fence—at the begrimed windows—at the unkempt lawn—at the feral garden—with a sensation of anticipation and inexplicable longing. Despite the deteriorated aspect of the house, a tug from within me goaded me forward, drawing me nearer the building—a pull too foreign and tenacious to be identified. With all the demanding curiosity of my profession, I tried to determine what it was that drew me so irresistibly toward the House of Lucian. The answer eluded me; I was forced toward the superstitious and unscientific conclusion that some things simply defied human explanation.

Endeavoring to shatter the sensation by rending asunder the silence, I carefully cleared my throat and more volubly suggested, “Shall we prepare for our exploration?” From the reactions within my breast and upon the countenances of my family, I could tell that I had erred. The mere suggestion that entry to this beckoning abode was possible evoked in me an impulse scarcely short of salivation. Suddenly I was shot through by a thrill of anticipation; here, on the estate of the enthralling House of Lucian, mere yards from the mansion itself, would my family and I spend the next several weeks. The estate had belonged decades ago to an eccentric scientist considered by some to be the most brilliant of his time. He had discontinued communication with the outside world over forty years prior to our arrival and had long been presumed deceased, but it was insisted by certain respected members of the scientific community that he, in his seclusion, had made discoveries still not achieved by another even in the present day—the particular rumor being that he had discovered, or come close to discovering, the secret to immortality—and, while this could not have been true, an examination of his possessions had nevertheless recently been commissioned. Curiosity, restlessness, and a certain trademark temerity had urged Thomas and myself to volunteer for the task; consequently, we had set out as hurriedly as we were able, bringing with us our irrepressible and scientifically-inclined daughter, and at last we had arrived.

Little was known about the erstwhile proprietor of the estate upon which we now tread. Sergei Lucian had been a reclusive figure, reportedly even in youth, and, what correspondence his reserve had not precluded, his expulsion from the scientific community of his day had prevented instead. Traces of both the man and his contributions to the field had, in the years immediately following his cessation, been studiously erased from nearly every record of the era, and not until recently, upon the advent of a cache of letters mentioning him repeatedly in tones of alternately fearful and reverent awe, had he become a matter of interest. In the lapse between these two epochs had stretched a gulf of indifference, during which his contemporaries had died off, taking with them all memories of him. Most of what had been gathered about him from the letters described him as fascinated with clocks, dabbling in hypnotism, expert concerning poisons, obsessed with immortality, and presumed guilty of the murder of an assistant. Sergei was, by all records, the last of the Lucians; he had no known relations to carry forward his tradition or biography into the present. Yet the possibility remained that he had been quietly married; until we had arrived at his isolated estate, some had believed that we would discover a well-kept, self-sufficient manor run by a modern Lucian. At first glance, however, I had concluded that this belief was obviously flawed; indubitably, no one had set foot on the premises since Lucian’s demise.

As mentioned earlier, the sole effect of my attempt to eradicate the inexplicable magnetism of the House of Lucian was to heighten the excitement and longing felt by my family and myself. Perhaps it was merely my consciousness of the sensation that caused me to believe I had seen what I must have envisioned—that must have been the cause; there is no other logical explanation—but for a moment or two I fancied I spied myriad tendrils of mist reaching forth from the House of Lucian, enthralling me and physically compelling me forward, through the superannuated door and into the house itself. The pull of the mansion had so wrought upon my imagination that I was now convinced that I had seen things I knew could not exist.

After the vision, I was at once was gripped by angst, for I had never before found myself in possession of such an overactive imagination; this emotion, upon overtaking me, quickly superseded my previous anticipation. Surveying the House of Lucian once more, I saw it as it genuinely appeared for the first time, my view no longer obscured by the bias of excitement. My first impression in the course of this reexamination was one of antiquity and utter neglect. Seasons of storms had washed away most of the paint, a fact that was primarily obfuscated by the opportunistic ivy that coated the exterior. In places, however, particularly in the uppermost reaches of the walls, it was evident that the wood of which the residence was built was rotting. Instinctively I glanced at my daughter, envisaging with all the clarity of a mother’s horror the house collapsing, extinguishing the flame of her young life. “Thomas,” I said importunately, “the house cannot be safe. Look at the rot! It is easily viewed if you glance near the roof. We must find a way to ensure the stability of the walls before venturing inside—before allowing Ella to enter.” For the first time, I wondered if the spirit of adventure that my husband and I shared had surpassed itself. The awareness reached me that I would never forgive myself if Ella were harmed due to one of our habitual whims, however willingly she accompanied us.

“Unsafe?” Thomas scoffed. “The house is calling us! It cannot be treacherous.” Thereupon I knew that an anomalous imprudence had overtaken my husband. While the two of us were infamous for taking occasionally impolitic risks, we had always favored science over superstition and Ella’s safety over every goal, a tradition I intended to continue. Meanwhile, having spoken, Thomas seized his examination kit from the carriage and approached the House of Lucian with a quick and uncontrolled gait. I was distressed to notice Ella skipping unsteadily before him, looking as if she was scarcely able to keep from sprinting. Upon noting my daughter’s departure, I dashed to outstrip her, gripped by worry, but I had descried her egression dilatorily, and she had thrust open the door and vanished ere I reached the house. Alongside me were Thomas’s footfalls, and I knew he had lost all of his former sensibility when he murmured, “Lucian, Lucian,” in tones so filled with foreign and unnatural longing that I could scarcely believe they belonged to my beloved. Faciles descensus Averni was indeed upon us.

The interior of the house was caliginous. Thomas and I drew to a subitaneous halt, granting our eyes a few seconds to adjust. When they did, it became unmistakable that the entrance hall had not been cleaned or even traversed in decades, except by one very recent pair of feet; the dust had yet to settle from Ella’s passage. The debris of the ages coated the rotting wood throughout the room, while leaves and twigs lay strewn across the floor. Against the left wall stood an oaken grandfather clock whose well-treated surface showed much less sign of rot than the surrounding wood. Its pendulum swung at what seemed an incomprehensibly slow pace, inexplicably entrancing me and bidding me watch as it made its listless journey from one side to the other. The reverie from which I had so recently awoken stole back into my mind until I could do naught but stand and watch the pendulum, all thoughts of Ella absent from my cognizance. At some point during my absorption, Thomas departed from the entrance hall and advanced to the next room, though I scarcely paid him mind, so lost was I in the motion of the clock.

All of a sudden the clock gave forth a great sound, followed by another, and a third—fourth—fifth—sixth. The noise astounded me, yet there was something so alluring in its music that I could not help but venture forth into the mansion. For I heard the clock’s call not only from the entrance hall, but also from every apartment both above and around me; the reverberation from the center of the house was strongest and drew me irresistibly toward it. With as little control as if I were somnambulating, I proceeded further into the residence, noting every room as I journeyed through, though I never lingered long before being drawn further inward by the low and mesmerizing tick of the central clock, magnified by the supplementary ticking of the grandfather clock that stood on the left wall of each room. Each subdivision of the residence had exactly two doors, one leading further inward and one through which I entered. In fact, the building seemed entirely devoid of halls or passageways; one passed directly from one room to the next. Each chamber seemed to have been dedicated to one area of study and one alone. The first apartment I penetrated after departing from the entrance hall appeared devoted to aviation; drawings, crashed models, and one prototype that had either survived its test or avoided evaluation altogether lay strewn across the floor. The next room was likewise dedicated to botany and contained a profusion of long-deceased plants. In the third suite I encountered the refuse of a lifetime’s study of geology—the fourth had once been the site of chemistry experiments, as evidenced by the burns and splatters along the floor, walls, and even ceiling—the fifth appeared to have housed medical studies—the sixth was devoid of notes but rather cloaked in the debris of what must have been hundreds of explosions, though the clock in this room, as in all the others, was perfectly intact and vaguely captivating, showing few signs of the damage obvious in every other part of the chamber. The scientist in me wished to loiter in each apartment and pour over the notes, models, drawings, and chemicals; yet the pull of the inmost clock drew me ever onward toward the core of the mansion, never dallying for whim or science.

The interior chamber of the House of Lucian was unlike the rest. The wall opposite me was obscured almost wholly by an enormous clock of obsidian, whose face had a diameter nearly equal to my height. The entire timepiece was black, save for the digits ringing the face, whose blood red hue distinguished them vividly from their sable backdrop. For several seconds—minutes, perhaps—I was unable to do anything but gaze upon the entrancing countenance of the chronograph, whose prodigious second hand and enormous pendulum bewitched me into oblivion. When at last I tore my attention from the timepiece, I saw the additional aberrant features of the apartment. To one extremity was a brazen cauldron, full of simmering liquid, surrounded by numerous beakers and barrels whose contents I had likely never encountered. For several moments, these articles ensnared my facilities. At last I looked upon the room’s other corner, and to my shock I beheld an antique four-poster bed, an armoire, and a man who arrested my attention as no other element in the mansion, not even the clock of obsidian, had done previously.

In a house whose apartments had been dedicated to such diverse and eccentric fields of study, whose contents had embraced models, debris, and enchanting chronometers, one would suppose there was nothing in existence capable of surpassing my tolerance for the paranormal, but at once this assumption was proven false; for, though I had seen all manner of oddities in the House of Lucian, the one thing I had been absolutely certain I would not lay my eyes upon was a human being outside my immediate family. And not only was this man unexpected, but his entire aspect was completely surreal. Wiry white hair sprung haphazardly from all parts of his scalp; his countenance was so cadaverous that I could scarcely believe he lived. Yet, as I watched him, he stood and turned slowly toward me, appraising me with a cursory glance before grinning slowly, madly, revealing teeth as rotten as the wood of the house.

“So good of you to join me at last,” the man greeted, advancing toward me. A harmony between his voice and the tick of the clock slowed my thoughts; the longing which I had felt since arrival was growing and was now compounded with excitement—I was nearing my goal. “Just walk toward my clock and eternal bliss shall be yours,” he continued hypnotically. “Walk toward the clock . . .”

I began to turn to do his bidding—eternal bliss would be mine!—when I caught sight of a familiar foot protruding from under the bed in the corner. In an instant, I was jarred back to reality. For the first time since entering the House of Lucian, I thought. I ran to my daughter in a sudden and importunate panic. Dragging her laboriously from under the bed, I could tell immediately that my beloved daughter was dead. Her lack of vital signs gave obvious indication of her cessation, though I could not definitively determine the cause of her untimely death. The only divergent mark upon her quiet body was one small bloodstain near her chest, scarcely large enough to denote any grievous damage. Then, in the midst of cursing myself for so imprudently endangering my daughter, I noticed another corpse—Thomas too lay beneath the bed; moving him, too, into the open, I saw that on him there were more obvious signs of struggle—bruises, blood, and the like covered his exposed skin, while a stain similar to Ella’s adorned his chest. Then, of a sudden, several realizations reached me simultaneously. Sergei Lucian’s most famous work had related to clocks, hypnotism, poison, and immortality. He had been suspected of at least one murder. And, had he lived, he would have been 120 years old. The man before me, the murderer of my family, was—it was impossible, yet I could think of no other identity for him—Sergei Lucian.

Scrambling to my feet, I ducked reflexively and avoided by a hair’s breadth the dagger that had come sailing toward me. “You cannot escape the House of Lucian!” the residence’s cadaverous proprietor shouted desperately. His voice, in its urgency, departed from its mesmerising harmony with the entrancing clock. “My secrets must remain here—must die with you! You must not escape! You cannot!” But, though it grieved me unspeakably to leave my daughter and husband, I was already sprinting, and there was no way to stop me, not for a man of such prodigious age and in possession of such a corpse-like body. So it was that I tore from the mansion, the site of my family’s deaths, and, regaining the carriage, surmounted the driver’s perch and drove away at lightning speed. So frightened was I that I allowed myself only the briefest of glances back, yet I could not help but turn to look when I heard a resounding, rumbling crash. Time had at last run our on the clock-building, near-immortal recluse. The wood of the mansion, destabilized by the rot of decades, had finally collapsed, and what had for so long been the fortress and hideaway of Sergei Lucian now became his killer and grave. My last backward glance revealed nothing but a heap of rubble—and one lone, freestanding structure that might have been made of obsidian—in the place where the residence had so recently stood, but by this time I was already nearly a mile away. And so it was that I escaped the House of Lucian.

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