045

“I have not mentioned to anybody – anybody who did not already know first-hand – the story of how my great-grandfather died,” said Danny, prodding the grate full of shrivelling papers.

Neil stared. It was mid-summer and the fireplace was alight.

“Would you like to hear?” Danny ushered a stray paper back into the blazing core.

Neil sat. He could spot a lengthy story brewing from a long way off.

Danny crossed his legs (the same sitting pose that had earned him snickers and jeers in middle school) and cleared his throat.

“He … was an alchemist. He spent all his time cooped up in his third-story laboratory, doing the weirdest things. Nobody – not even great-grandmother – was allowed in there, not even to clean.

“For the longest time we all thought it was just a weird hobby. The horrible smells on the third floor and the weird compounds that ended up in the bin – nobody took it seriously. Great-grandfather was completely crazy with paranoia, though; he was always going on about some black-handed league of alchemists out to get him.

“When he wasn’t waffling nutsy things, though, he was the funniest, the most outgoing, and the easiest to get along with. Dad has a lot of memories with him.

“And then he walked out the third-story window one day. After everybody had recovered from the shock and thought to check his lab, there was a bit of a shock – most of his equipment had been destroyed, and all of his papers were in the fireplace.

“He didn’t leave a will or a last letter or even a suicide note. The only clue we had were the papers in the fire; someone ran for a bucket of water and they did their best to salvage them.

“In that mess, we pieced together a heavy treatise: the secret to immortality. Great-grandfather had stumbled upon the formula for eternal life. He had not meant to, but from what we saw in his notes, he had come across a terrifying and immovable wedge which would stop Death’s Door in its place.

“He left us only with the results of his experiments; all of his formulas related to the subject that we saved were scribbled out with ink. We suppose that as soon as he was done disposing of the written evidence, he sealed off the last possible outlet of that inhuman secret for good – by taking his own life.”

Danny prodded the grate again. Neil sat and watched the flames. He pointed at the fire and raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, this? Those papers were passed to Grandfather, and from him to Dad; each generation has been tasked with safeguarding the last bastion of alchemy in our family. I have decided that it is for the better that we forget about all this and move forward, and pray that nobody will ever accidentally stumble upon this terrible discovery again.”

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