Oil painting in the style of early 20th-century art, depicting a dark, foreboding castle surrounded by a dense, misty forest. In the foreground, the protagonist from 'The Alchemist' stands, holding a journal and an ancient potion bottle, looking determined.

H.P. Lovecraft’s The Alchemist Retold

From Gothic chateaus to digital showdowns, discover how a century-old Lovecraft tale finds eerie resonance in today’s cyber age. What timeless curse haunts the modern world? Dive in!

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The Alchemist was written in 1908 when Lovecraft was only 18 years old, first published in the November 1916 edition of The United Amateur. The story revolves around the last member of the de Causis family, who is on a quest to uncover the truth behind a centuries-old curse that has doomed every member of his lineage to an early death. The narrative unfolds in the form of a journal, detailing the protagonist’s discoveries and eventual fate.

It’s a prime example of H.P. Lovecraft’s ability to weave a tale of supernatural horror grounded in rich detail and atmosphere. Though it was written early in his career, it contains many elements defining his later works. In this article, we’ll explore The Alchemist through a modern lens as we re-tell that tale for today’s audiences. The original text is also available to read. Let’s begin:


It’s a tale that captures his signature style and themes: the supernatural, curses, ancient knowledge, and the macabre. Written when Lovecraft was still a teenager, it exhibits the mature style for which he would become famous. Let’s analyze some key elements of the text:

  1. Atmosphere and Setting: Lovecraft is well known for creating a thick atmosphere of dread and foreboding. The decaying chateau, the ancient tomes, the “spectral wood,” and the underground passages all contribute to this. The setting is integral to the narrative, with the castle’s dilapidated state serving as a metaphor for the decayed lineage of the protagonist.
  2. Themes:
    • Curse: The idea of a family curse is central to the narrative. The curse, which limits the life of its members to a mere 32 years, is a manifestation of the past’s hold on the present.
    • Isolation: The protagonist grows up isolated from society due to his noble birth and the old servant Pierre’s efforts to shield him from the curse’s knowledge. This isolation moulds his personality, making him prone to melancholy and obsessive study.
    • Alchemy and Immortality: The pursuit of forbidden knowledge, another recurrent theme in Lovecraft’s works, is evident in the alchemical studies of Charles Le Sorcier and his father. Their quest for the elixir of life results in Charles achieving a twisted form of immortality to maintain his revenge.
  3. Characters:
    • Antoine: The last of his line, Antoine is a victim of both the curse and his insatiable curiosity. His life is defined by the looming spectre of premature death and his quest to understand it.
    • Charles Le Sorcier: The antagonist of the story, Charles, is driven by revenge against the protagonist’s family for the unjust murder of his father. His alchemical knowledge allows him to extend his life for centuries, all in the service of his vendetta.
    • Michel Mauvais: Charles’ father, he is a victim of the Comte’s misguided rage. His unjust death catalyzes the events of the story.
  4. Style: Lovecraft’s language is dense and archaic, evoking the tone of older gothic literature. This gives his stories a timeless quality despite their often modern settings. His use of detail, especially in describing settings, helps immerse the reader in the world he’s created.
  5. Climax: The story’s climax, where Charles Le Sorcier reveals his identity and the secret to his long life, is a classic Lovecraftian twist. The revelation that the antagonist has been living for six centuries, fueled by revenge and forbidden knowledge, embodies the horror of the unknown and the supernatural.

Oil painting of the Armand Penthouse, an old ornate mansion perched atop a building, surrounded by modern skyscrapers. The scene is set at dusk, with the setting sun casting a golden hue on the mansion, emphasizing its age and grandeur. Tony Armand stands at the entrance, holding an old lantern, illuminating the intricate details of the mansion's architecture.

A Tale Retold: The Alchemist for the Modern World

Introduction and Setting

Amidst the dense skyline of a historic city stands the towering relic of the Armand family – a once-magnificent urban mansion now showing clear signs of neglect. Its ornate façade, which once gleamed in the sunlight, is now faded, stained by pollution and time. The mansion starkly contrasts the modern glass skyscrapers around it, much like an old photograph juxtaposed against a digital image.

This mansion, known among locals as “The Armand Penthouse,” is perched atop a building in a neighbourhood that has seen better days. Years ago, this was the place to be – a hub of opulence and power. But as the digital age dawned, old money waned, and the area slowly transformed. Now, amidst artisanal coffee shops and trendy boutiques, The Armand Penthouse is a testament to an era long gone, a monument to the city’s rich history.

Enter Tony Armand, a young man with unruly hair, wearing vintage clothes that seem to echo the mansion’s age. Returning after dropping out of college, Tony often feels like a misfit in this digital age. While his peers are engrossed in the latest social media trends, Tony finds solace in the tangible – old books, vinyl records, and the echoing hallways of his family’s vast residence.

The Armand legacy is one of triumphs, tragedies, and mysteries. Whispers of a family curse have been passed down, but Tony initially pays little heed. For him, the mansion is a refuge, a place to escape the relentless pace of the modern world.

However, as he roams the echoing halls, he can’t help but feel the weight of generations on his shoulders, and the mansion’s countless locked rooms and archaic technology beckon him with secrets waiting to be uncovered.

Tony’s Life and Isolation

Tony Armand always felt he was born in the wrong era. Growing up, while other kids were mastering the latest video game, Tony was engrossed in restoring old family photos and reading handwritten letters from ancestors he’d never met. As he entered his teens, the digital divide only grew. His friends became influencers, tech entrepreneurs, or crypto traders, while Tony became increasingly out of sync with the world around him.

College was supposed to be a fresh start, a chance to find like-minded individuals. But the omnipresence of technology only exacerbated his feelings of isolation. Classmates taking notes on tablets, group projects managed through apps, parties organized via social media invites – Tony felt overwhelmed. The world seemed to be in fast-forward, while he was stuck in pause.

One day, after a particularly challenging video conference class, Tony decided to take a break. He’d had enough of virtual lectures and digital assignments. He packed up, left a brief note for his roommate, and decided to return to the one place he felt truly at home: The Armand Penthouse.

Back at the mansion, Tony threw himself into a project he’d long contemplated but never had the time for: digitally archiving the family’s vast collection of photographs, letters, and artefacts. In the mansion’s sprawling library, amidst dust-covered books and fading portraits, Tony set up a makeshift workstation. Old scanners whirred to life as he meticulously catalogued each item, uploading them to a private cloud server for preservation. This project became his passion, his anchor in a world that seemed to drift further away with each passing day.

But with this intense focus on the past came the profound loneliness of the present. Tony’s only interactions were with food delivery drivers and the occasional message from a concerned college friend. The vastness of the mansion seemed to magnify his isolation, every creak and whisper a reminder of his solitude.

At night, as the city lights blinked below, Tony would sit by the window, staring out into the urban expanse. He often wondered if, amidst the millions, there was anyone else who felt as disconnected as he did. The digital age, with all its promises of connectivity, had left him more isolated than ever.

Discovery of the Family Curse

One evening, while digitizing a stack of letters tied with a faded ribbon, Tony stumbled upon a peculiar correspondence. It was a series of emails printed out, dating back to the early days of the internet. The subject lines grew increasingly frantic: “Strange Digital Activity,” “Financial Accounts Hacked!” and “Is this some kind of curse?” Intrigued, Tony began to read.

The emails detailed a series of mysterious digital misfortunes that plagued the Armands. Every head of the family, upon reaching a pivotal moment in their life, faced a catastrophic digital sabotage. Bank accounts drained overnight, important digital documents corrupted, and personal information leaked online. Each incident was seemingly untraceable and left the victim in ruins.

Tony recalled vague mentions of this “curse” during family gatherings. Elderly relatives would whisper about it after a few drinks, their eyes darting around as if expecting the walls to listen. But young Tony dismissed it as mere superstition, an old family myth. Now, with evidence in hand, he wasn’t so sure.

Determined to learn more, Tony delved deeper into the mansion’s archives. He discovered old floppy disks, CDs, and even a couple of ancient hard drives. Using vintage computers and adapters, he began accessing the data. To his surprise, many of these devices contained remnants of old firewalls, primitive antivirus logs, and traces of digital defences long forgotten.

Piecing the digital breadcrumbs together, Tony discerned a pattern. Every Armand who had suffered due to the curse had received a cryptic message just before the calamity. A simple line that read: “The legacy continues. The digital shadows never forget.”

His heart raced as he realized the gravity of his discovery. The curse wasn’t just a family legend; it was real, and its implications were terrifying. With every click and scroll, Tony felt himself being drawn into a digital labyrinth, one that had ensnared his family for generations.

He knew he had to find answers. If the curse was real, it was only a matter of time before it came for him.

Unearthed History – Mike the Codebreaker

Buried deep in the mansion’s sub-basement, behind a locked door with thick layers of dust, Tony found a room that seemed frozen in time. The faint hum of machinery still echoed in the cold air. Rows of old servers, monitors with green phosphorescent glows, and stacks of magnetic tapes filled the space. It looked like a hacker’s lair from an 80s movie.

On one of the walls, an old poster featured a man with sharp eyes, wearing a beret, with the title “Mike the Codebreaker – The Unsung Hero of Cyberspace.” Tony’s fingers raced over his smartphone, searching for any information on this mysterious figure.

Mike, it turned out, was a legendary figure in the early days of computing. A genius cryptographer, he was rumoured to have cracked some of the most complex codes of his time. Some said he was involved in covert government projects; others whispered that he dabbled in the darker corners of the early internet. But one detail caught Tony’s attention: Mike had a falling out with the Armands, leading to a bitter feud.

As Tony explored the old computers, he found fragmented files and notes that shed more light on the story. Mike had once partnered with the Armands on a revolutionary digital project, an endeavour aimed at creating the ultimate encryption protocol. Their goal was to safeguard the world’s data against any breach. But as with many partnerships fueled by ambition, things went awry.

Tony discovered correspondence indicating disagreements over the project’s direction. The Armands, it seemed, wanted to commercialize the encryption protocol, aiming for vast wealth and control over the digital world. Mike, on the other hand, believed in open-source ideals and wanted their invention to be free for all.

The tension reached its peak when the Armands allegedly tried to steal Mike’s portion of the code, leading to a catastrophic system failure. In the digital chaos that ensued, vast amounts of data were lost, and both parties blamed each other. Mike’s last message to the Armands was hauntingly clear: “You may have the power now, but the digital realm has a long memory. Betrayals will not be forgotten.”

Piecing together the puzzle, Tony realized that the family’s digital curse might have originated from this very feud. Was Mike the architect of the Armands’ digital downfall? And if so, how had the curse persisted long after Mike’s time?

The Appearance of Charlie the Hacker

With each revelation, Tony felt an increasing sense of unease. His devices began acting erratically. His laptop would freeze unexpectedly, his phone would receive blank calls, and unfamiliar icons would sporadically pop up on his screens. Most unsettling was a persistent digital shadow that seemed to follow him online – a user named “C_Hacker_21.”

One evening, while Tony was deep into his research, a chat window suddenly appeared on his screen. The message was clear:

C_Hacker_21: “Digging into places you shouldn’t be, Tony?”

Tony’s fingers hesitated over the keyboard before replying.

TonyArmand: “Who are you?”

C_Hacker_21: “Just a ghost from the past. Or maybe your worst digital nightmare.”

Tony’s mind raced. Connecting the dots, he wondered if this hacker had ties to Mike the Codebreaker.

TonyArmand: “Are you related to Mike?”

There was a brief pause.

C_Hacker_21: “You could say that. He was my great-grandfather. The Armands did him wrong, and I’m here to ensure the debt is paid.”

The conversations with Charlie (as Tony began referring to him) became more frequent and menacing. Hints dropped by Charlie suggested he wasn’t just a distant observer but close, possibly even in the same city. Drones would occasionally hover outside Tony’s windows, capturing his every move. When Tony ventured outside, he’d notice the same mysterious black van parked at various locations.

The digital cat and mouse game escalated. Charlie would leave digital breadcrumbs, leading Tony to encrypted files with cryptic messages. Tony, using the skills he’d honed while archiving the family’s history and the tools he found in Mike’s hacker lair, tried countering every move.

One night, while Tony was trying to decrypt a particularly challenging file, his entire home automation system went berserk. Lights flickered, alarms blared, and electronic locks toggled open and shut. Amidst the chaos, every screen in the mansion displayed the same message:

“Time is running out, Tony. The curse lives on.”

Paranoia consumed Tony. The line between the digital and physical world blurred, making him question his every move. The mansion, his sanctuary, now felt like a trap, with Charlie pulling the strings.

Climactic Confrontation

With every passing day, the digital onslaught intensified. Tony realized he couldn’t fight this battle alone. He reached out to a few tech-savvy friends from college and formed a small team to counteract Charlie’s hacks. They dubbed themselves “The Firewall Five.”

Operating from the old hacker lair, they mounted a defence. Using Mike’s old codes, mixed with modern-day cybersecurity techniques, they built layers of digital barriers. But Charlie’s attacks were relentless, each wave more sophisticated than the last. It was clear to Tony that this wasn’t just about a family feud; Charlie was after something more.

One evening, amidst a particularly fierce digital skirmish, Tony managed to trace one of Charlie’s hacks to its origin. The coordinates pointed to an abandoned warehouse in the city’s industrial district. Armed with this knowledge, Tony decided it was time for a face-to-face confrontation.

As Tony entered the dimly lit warehouse, he was greeted by an eerie sight. Rows of servers, just like those in the Armand penthouse, blinked in the darkness. At the centre of this techno maze stood a figure illuminated by the glow of multiple screens.

“Welcome, Tony,” the figure said, turning around. It was a young man, no older than Tony, with piercing eyes that seemed all too familiar. It was Charlie.

The two locked eyes, the weight of generations between them. The room was charged with tension.

“Why are you doing this?” Tony demanded.

Charlie smirked. “For power. Your ancestors and mine fought over codes and secrets, but I’ve discovered something even greater. The digital elixir.”

He motioned to a screen showcasing a complex algorithm. “With this, I can manipulate data streams, control digital assets, even influence thoughts and behaviors. The world is now digital, and with this, I can rule it.”

Tony, realizing the gravity of the situation, knew he had to act. Drawing from his newfound knowledge and the strength of his ancestors, he initiated a counter-sequence from a device he’d brought. The room became a frenzy of flashing screens and whirring servers as old codes clashed with new hacks.

The climax came when Tony, using a blend of Mike’s final encryption and modern-day decryption tools, neutralised Charlie’s “digital elixir.”

The aftermath was a sea of fried servers and two exhausted adversaries. Charlie, defeated, looked up at Tony. “You may have won this round, but the digital realm is vast. Remember, data never dies.”

As the police arrived, alerted by one of Tony’s Firewall Five, Charlie was taken into custody. But his parting words haunted Tony. The digital age had its advantages, but it also bore curses of its own.

Wrapping Up: From Gothic Mansions to Digital Realms

The enduring allure of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Alchemist” lies in its exploration of curses, family legacies, and the haunting weight of the past. Written in an era when Gothic tales reigned supreme, Lovecraft’s narrative masterfully tapped into the human psyche’s fears and curiosities. The haunted chateaus, ancient curses, and the eerie presence of a vengeful alchemist are all elements that have captured readers’ imaginations for over a century.

Fast forward to today, and the world has drastically changed. Gothic mansions have been replaced by modern penthouses, and ancient curses have taken on new forms in the digital realm. Yet, some things remain unchanged. The essence of Lovecraft’s story – the struggle between the past and the present, the weight of family legacies, and the quest for power – still resonates. The modern retelling of “The Alchemist” serves as a testament to this enduring relevance.

In this reimagined version, the battle is not against a physical elixir but a digital one. The adversaries aren’t confined to stone walls but traverse the vast landscape of cyberspace. The story, while rooted in contemporary settings and challenges, still reflects the age-old dilemmas of human ambition, ethics, and the shadows of the past.

What this comparison between the original and the modern retelling underscores is the timeless nature of storytelling. While settings, characters, and challenges may evolve, the core human experiences remain the same. Both versions of “The Alchemist” remind us of the lengths individuals will go to for power, the weight of family legacies, and the enduring battle between the past and the present.

In a rapidly digitizing world, stories like these serve as a bridge. They connect the analogue memories of the past with the digital aspirations of the future, emphasizing that, at our core, our hopes, fears, and desires remain unchanged. Whether in the dimly lit corridors of a Gothic mansion or the bright screens of a modern computer, the quest for understanding, power, and legacy continues.

The Alchemist (Original Text)


The Alchemist

High up, crowning the grassy summit of a swelling mound whose sides are wooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest, stands the old chateau of my ancestors. For centuries its lofty battlements have frowned down upon the wild and rugged countryside about, serving as a home and stronghold for the proud house whose honoured line is older even than the moss-grown castle walls. These ancient turrets, stained by the storms of generations and crumbling under the slow yet mighty pressure of time, formed in the ages of feudalism one of the most dreaded and formidable fortresses in all France. From its machicolated parapets and mounted battlements Barons, Counts, and even Kings had been defied, yet never had its spacious halls resounded to the footstep of the invader.

But since those glorious years all is changed. A poverty but little above the level of dire want, together with a pride of name that forbids its alleviation by the pursuits of commercial life, have prevented the scions of our line from maintaining their estates in pristine splendour; and the falling stones of the walls, the overgrown vegetation in the parks, the dry and dusty moat, the ill-paved courtyards, and toppling towers without, as well as the sagging floors, the worm-eaten wainscots, and the faded tapestries within, all tell a gloomy tale of fallen grandeur. As the ages passed, first one, then another of the four great turrets were left to ruin, until at last but a single tower housed the sadly reduced descendants of the once mighty lords of the estate.

It was in one of the vast and gloomy chambers of this remaining tower that I, Antoine, last of the unhappy and accursed Comtes de C——, first saw the light of day, ninety long years ago. Within these walls, and amongst the dark and shadowy forests, the wild ravines and grottoes of the hillside below, were spent the first years of my troubled life. My parents I never knew. My father had been killed at the age of thirty-two, a month before I was born, by the fall of a stone somehow dislodged from one of the deserted parapets of the castle, and my mother having died at my birth, my care and education devolved solely upon one remaining servitor, an old and trusted man of considerable intelligence, whose name I remember as Pierre. I was an only child, and the lack of companionship which this fact entailed upon me was augmented by the strange care exercised by my aged guardian in excluding me from the society of the peasant children whose abodes were scattered here and there upon the plains that surround the base of the hill. At the time, Pierre said that this restriction was imposed upon me because my noble birth placed me above association with such plebeian company. Now I know that its real object was to keep from my ears the idle tales of the dread curse upon our line, that were nightly told and magnified by the simple tenantry as they conversed in hushed accents in the glow of their cottage hearths.

Thus isolated, and thrown upon my own resources, I spent the hours of my childhood in poring over the ancient tomes that filled the shadow-haunted library of the chateau, and in roaming without aim or purpose through the perpetual dusk of the spectral wood that clothes the sides of the hill near its foot. It was perhaps an effect of such surroundings that my mind early acquired a shade of melancholy. Those studies and pursuits which partake of the dark and occult in nature most strongly claimed my attention.

Of my own race I was permitted to learn singularly little, yet what small knowledge of it I was able to gain, seemed to depress me much. Perhaps it was at first only the manifest reluctance of my old preceptor to discuss with me my paternal ancestry that gave rise to the terror which I ever felt at the mention of my great house, yet as I grew out of childhood, I was able to piece together disconnected fragments of discourse, let slip from the unwilling tongue which had begun to falter in approaching senility, that had a sort of relation to a certain circumstance which I had always deemed strange, but which now became dimly terrible. The circumstance to which I allude is the early age at which all the Comtes of my line had met their end. Whilst I had hitherto considered this but a natural attribute of a family of short-lived men, I afterward pondered long upon these premature deaths, and began to connect them with the wanderings of the old man, who often spoke of a curse which for centuries had prevented the lives of the holders of my title from much exceeding the span of thirty-two years. Upon my twenty-first birthday, the aged Pierre gave to me a family document which he said had for many generations been handed down from father to son, and continued by each possessor. Its contents were of the most startling nature, and its perusal confirmed the gravest of my apprehensions. At this time, my belief in the supernatural was firm and deep-seated, else I should have dismissed with scorn the incredible narrative unfolded before my eyes.

The paper carried me back to the days of the thirteenth century, when the old castle in which I sat had been a feared and impregnable fortress. It told of a certain ancient man who had once dwelt on our estates, a person of no small accomplishments, though little above the rank of peasant; by name, Michel, usually designated by the surname of Mauvais, the Evil, on account of his sinister reputation. He had studied beyond the custom of his kind, seeking such things as the Philosopher’s Stone, or the Elixir of Eternal Life, and was reputed wise in the terrible secrets of Black Magic and Alchemy. Michel Mauvais had one son, named Charles, a youth as proficient as himself in the hidden arts, and who had therefore been called Le Sorcier, or the Wizard. This pair, shunned by all honest folk, were suspected of the most hideous practices. Old Michel was said to have burnt his wife alive as a sacrifice to the Devil, and the unaccountable disappearances of many small peasant children were laid at the dreaded door of these two. Yet through the dark natures of the father and the son ran one redeeming ray of humanity; the evil old man loved his offspring with fierce intensity, whilst the youth had for his parent a more than filial affection.

One night the castle on the hill was thrown into the wildest confusion by the vanishment of young Godfrey, son to Henri, the Comte. A searching party, headed by the frantic father, invaded the cottage of the sorcerers and there came upon old Michel Mauvais, busy over a huge and violently boiling cauldron. Without certain cause, in the ungoverned madness of fury and despair, the Comte laid hands on the aged wizard, and ere he released his murderous hold his victim was no more. Meanwhile joyful servants were proclaiming aloud the finding of young Godfrey in a distant and unused chamber of the great edifice, telling too late that poor Michel had been killed in vain. As the Comte and his associates turned away from the lowly abode of the alchemists, the form of Charles Le Sorcier appeared through the trees. The excited chatter of the menials standing about told him what had occurred, yet he seemed at first unmoved at his father’s fate. Then, slowly advancing to meet the Comte, he pronounced in dull yet terrible accents the curse that ever afterward haunted the house of C——.

“May ne’er a noble of thy murd’rous line
Survive to reach a greater age than thine!”

spake he, when, suddenly leaping backwards into the black wood, he drew from his tunic a phial of colourless liquid which he threw in the face of his father’s slayer as he disappeared behind the inky curtain of the night. The Comte died without utterance, and was buried the next day, but little more than two and thirty years from the hour of his birth. No trace of the assassin could be found, though relentless bands of peasants scoured the neighboring woods and the meadow-land around the hill.

Thus time and the want of a reminder dulled the memory of the curse in the minds of the late Comte’s family, so that when Godfrey, innocent cause of the whole tragedy and now bearing the title, was killed by an arrow whilst hunting, at the age of thirty-two, there were no thoughts save those of grief at his demise. But when, years afterward, the next young Comte, Robert by name, was found dead in a nearby field from no apparent cause, the peasants told in whispers that their seigneur had but lately passed his thirty-second birthday when surprised by early death. Louis, son to Robert, was found drowned in the moat at the same fateful age, and thus down through the centuries ran the ominous chronicle; Henris, Roberts, Antoines, and Armands snatched from happy and virtuous lives when a little below the age of their unfortunate ancestor at his murder.

That I had left at most but eleven years of further existence was made certain to me by the words which I read. My life, previously held at small value, now became dearer to me each day, as I delved deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the hidden world of black magic. Isolated as I was, modern science had produced no impression upon me, and I laboured as in the Middle Ages, as wrapt as had been old Michel and young Charles themselves in the acquisition of demonological and alchemical learning. Yet read as I might, in no manner could I account for the strange curse upon my line. In unusually rational moments, I would even go so far as to seek a natural explanation, attributing the early deaths of my ancestors to the sinister Charles Le Sorcier and his heirs; yet having found upon careful inquiry that there were no known descendants of the alchemist, I would fall back to my occult studies, and once more endeavour to find a spell that would release my house from its terrible burden. Upon one thing I was absolutely resolved. I should never wed, for since no other branches of my family were in existence, I might thus end the curse with myself.

As I drew near the age of thirty, old Pierre was called to the land beyond. Alone I buried him beneath the stones of the courtyard about which he had loved to wander in life. Thus was I left to ponder on myself as the only human creature within the great fortress, and in my utter solitude my mind began to cease its vain protest against the impending doom, to become almost reconciled to the fate which so many of my ancestors had met. Much of my time was now occupied in the exploration of the ruined and abandoned halls and towers of the old chateau, which in youth fear had caused me to shun, and some of which old Pierre had once told me had not been trodden by human foot for over four centuries. Strange and awsome were many of the objects I encountered. Furniture, covered by the dust of ages and crumbling with the rot of long dampness met my eyes. Cobwebs in a profusion never before seen by me were spun everywhere, and huge bats flapped their bony and uncanny wings on all sides of the otherwise untenanted gloom.

Of my exact age, even down to days and hours, I kept a most careful record, for each movement of the pendulum of the massive clock in the library tolled off so much more of my doomed existence. At length I approached that time which I had so long viewed with apprehension. Since most of my ancestors had been seized some little while before they reached the exact age of the Comte Henri at his end, I was every moment on the watch for the coming of the unknown death. In what strange form the curse should overtake me, I knew not; but I was resolved at least that it should not find me a cowardly or a passive victim. With new vigour I applied myself to my examination of the old chateau and its contents.

It was upon one of the longest of all my excursions of discovery in the deserted portion of the castle, less than a week before that fatal hour which I felt must mark the utmost limit of my stay on earth, beyond which I could have not even the slightest hope of continuing to draw breath, that I came upon the culminating event of my whole life. I had spent the better part of the morning in climbing up and down half ruined staircases in one of the most dilapidated of the ancient turrets. As the afternoon progressed, I sought the lower levels, descending into what appeared to be either a mediaeval place of confinement, or a more recently excavated storehouse for gunpowder. As I slowly traversed the nitre-encrusted passageway at the foot of the last staircase, the paving became very damp, and soon I saw by the light of my flickering torch that a blank, water-stained wall impeded my journey. Turning to retrace my steps, my eye fell upon a small trap-door with a ring, which lay directly beneath my feet. Pausing, I succeeded with difficulty in raising it, whereupon there was revealed a black aperture, exhaling noxious fumes which caused my torch to sputter, and disclosing in the unsteady glare the top of a flight of stone steps. As soon as the torch, which I lowered into the repellent depths, burned freely and steadily, I commenced my descent.

The steps were many, and led to a narrow stone-flagged passage which I knew must be far underground. This passage proved of great length, and terminated in a massive oaken door, dripping with the moisture of the place, and stoutly resisting all my attempts to open it. Ceasing after a time my efforts in this direction, I had proceeded back some distance toward the steps, when there suddenly fell to my experience one of the most profound and maddening shocks capable of reception by the human mind. Without warning, I heard the heavy door behind me creak slowly open upon its rusted hinges. My immediate sensations are incapable of analysis. To be confronted in a place as thoroughly deserted as I had deemed the old castle with evidence of the presence of man or spirit, produced in my brain a horror of the most acute description. When at last I turned and faced the seat of the sound, my eyes must have started from their orbits at the sight that they beheld.

There in the ancient Gothic doorway stood a human figure. It was that of a man clad in a skull-cap and long mediaeval tunic of dark colour. His long hair and flowing beard were of a terrible and intense black hue, and of incredible profusion. His forehead, high beyond the usual dimensions; his cheeks, deep sunken and heavily lined with wrinkles; and his hands, long, claw-like and gnarled, were of such a deathly, marble-like whiteness as I have never elsewhere seen in man. His figure, lean to the proportions of a skeleton, was strangely bent and almost lost within the voluminous folds of his peculiar garment. But strangest of all were his eyes; twin caves of abysmal blackness; profound in expression of understanding, yet inhuman in degree of wickedness. These were now fixed upon me, piercing my soul with their hatred, and rooting me to the spot whereon I stood. At last the figure spoke in a rumbling voice that chilled me through with its dull hollowness and latent malevolence.

The language in which the discourse was clothed was that debased form of Latin in use amongst the more learned men of the Middle Ages, and made familiar to me by my prolonged researches into the works of the old alchemists and demonologists. The apparition spoke of the curse which had hovered over my house, told me of my coming end, dwelt on the wrong perpetrated by my ancestor against old Michel Mauvais, and gloated over the revenge of Charles Le Sorcier. He told me how the young Charles had escaped into the night, returning in after years to kill Godfrey the heir with an arrow just as he approached the age which had been his father’s at his assassination; how he had secretly returned to the estate and established himself, unknown, in the even then deserted subterranean chamber whose doorway now framed the hideous narrator; how he had seized Robert, son of Godfrey, in a field, forced poison down his throat and left him to die at the age of thirty-two, thus maintaining the foul provisions of his vengeful curse.

At this point I was left to imagine the solution of the greatest mystery of all, how the curse had been fulfilled since that time when Charles Le Sorcier must in the course of nature have died, for the man digressed into an account of the deep alchemical studies of the two wizards, father and son, speaking most particularly of the researches of Charles Le Sorcier concerning the elixir which should grant to him who partook of it eternal life and youth.

His enthusiasm had seemed for the moment to remove from his terrible eyes the hatred that had at first so haunted them, but suddenly the fiendish glare returned, and with a shocking sound like the hissing of a serpent, the stranger raised a glass phial with the evident intent of ending my life as had Charles Le Sorcier, six hundred years before, ended that of my ancestor. Prompted by some preserving instinct of self-defense, I broke through the spell that had hitherto held me immovable, and flung my now dying torch at the creature who menaced my existence. I heard the phial break harmlessly against the stones of the passage as the tunic of the strange man caught fire and lit the horrid scene with a ghastly radiance. The shriek of fright and impotent malice emitted by the would-be assassin proved too much for my already shaken nerves, and I fell prone upon the slimy floor in a total faint.

When at last my senses returned, all was frightfully dark, and my mind remembering what had occurred, shrank from the idea of beholding more; yet curiosity overmastered all. Who, I asked myself, was this man of evil, and how came he within the castle walls? Why should he seek to avenge the death of poor Michel Mauvais, and how had the curse been carried on through all the long centuries since the time of Charles Le Sorcier? The dread of years was lifted off my shoulders, for I knew that he whom I had felled was the source of all my danger from the curse; and now that I was free, I burned with the desire to learn more of the sinister thing which had haunted my line for centuries, and made of my own youth one long-continued nightmare.

Determined upon further exploration, I felt in my pockets for flint and steel, and lit the unused torch which I had with me. First of all, the new light revealed the distorted and blackened form of the mysterious stranger. The hideous eyes were now closed. Disliking the sight, I turned away and entered the chamber beyond the Gothic door. Here I found what seemed much like an alchemist’s laboratory. In one corner was an immense pile of a shining yellow metal that sparkled gorgeously in the light of the torch. It may have been gold, but I did not pause to examine it, for I was strangely affected by that which I had undergone.

At the farther end of the apartment was an opening leading out into one of the many wild ravines of the dark hillside forest. Filled with wonder, yet now realizing how the man had obtained access to the chateau, I proceeded to return. I had intended to pass by the remains of the stranger with averted face, but as I approached the body, I seemed to hear emanating from it a faint sound, as though life were not yet wholly extinct. Aghast, I turned to examine the charred and shrivelled figure on the floor.

Then all at once the horrible eyes, blacker even than the seared face in which they were set, opened wide with an expression which I was unable to interpret. The cracked lips tried to frame words which I could not well understand. Once I caught the name of Charles Le Sorcier, and again I fancied that the words “years” and “curse” issued from the twisted mouth. Still I was at a loss to gather the purport of his disconnected speech. At my evident ignorance of his meaning, the pitchy eyes once more flashed malevolently at me, until, helpless as I saw my opponent to be, I trembled as I watched him.

Suddenly the wretch, animated with his last burst of strength, raised his hideous head from the damp and sunken pavement. Then, as I remained, paralyzed with fear, he found his voice and in his dying breath screamed forth those words which have ever afterward haunted my days and my nights. “Fool,” he shrieked, “can you not guess my secret? Have you no brain whereby you may recognize the will which has through six long centuries fulfilled the dreadful curse upon your house? Have I not told you of the great elixir of eternal life? Know you not how the secret of Alchemy was solved? I tell you, it is I! I! I! that have lived for six hundred years to maintain my revenge, FOR I AM CHARLES LE SORCIER!”


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