THE FAMILY WAS DYING OUT and I had to say good riddance. There seemed to be a curse on our name. Rather than dramatic tragedy, we were plagued by a tedious resentment and petty spite for the world and each other.
I never married for a childish, superstitious fear that such bitterness would be perpetuated.
That the name would die with me was a wish I made for the world.
Still, I wondered about the family before my grandparents. I knew little until my great aunt passed. As I perused her effects at the estate sale, I found a compelling link, a bridge, to the past.
It was a portrait, clearly of a considerable age, of someone to whom I was obviously related. The family resemblance was undeniable. Alas, none remained to elucidate this man’s identity.
The painting was given to me by my aunt’s heirs- a new bloodline with a new name. Perhaps they did this out of pity, perhaps they were happy to be rid of it.
I hung it in my room, also my study, frequently finding myself drawn to examine it closely. This long dead and utterly unreachable man was the first of my line that I had a desire to know.
Often, as I drifted to sleep, I felt a vague, fleeting connection. I would wake from dreams I couldn’t quite remember with a mixture of sadness, fear, and excitement.
Then, I began to notice stranger things. At first, these were little things.
I’d catch myself humming or whistling tunes I couldn’t name. The moment I’d realize I was doing it, it would cease.
Then, I found myself catching little glimpses of places I’d never been, imagining faces I’d never seen before. These visions would jump into mind and leave me gripped in an anxiety I couldn’t account for.
Sometimes, as I dozed off, I would hear faint voices having conversations. I would snap wide awake, knowing I was completely alone.
And always, the portrait held some detail I had never noticed, drawn to my attention as if I dimly remembered something I had long forgotten. The portrait soothed me somehow.
Though I told myself it was all silly, I was convinced that there was more to this. It was as if I stood on one side of a door sealed with an unbreakable lock.
How I yearned for the key.
For reasons I can’t explain, I began to search antique shops and bookstores. I spent what money I could spare buying things that felt… familiar. It was among the latter sort that I found an old journal.
I could not read the odd language or understand the strange symbols within, but the handwriting I knew! It was almost identical to mine.
One night, I awoke with this book in my hands as though I had been reading. The portrait, staring down at me, smiled its reassuring smile.
From then on, I spent many long days at the library, trying to decipher the journal’s enigmatic pages. I identified several languages, both modern and ancient. Among them was another which defied all efforts at decryption.
One night, as I studied the painting, I was surprised by a phone call.
It seemed I had put my small house on the market and I had an offer. Though I was alarmed, I heard myself speaking calmly, assuring the real-estate agent that the offer was acceptable.
Apparently, I was willing to settle for less than its worth due to the rush I was in.
I told myself the other house was bigger and could be had for less.
Truly, it was. After a long ride far into the sleepy countryside, I found it just beyond a tiny town. I had never seen this place before, but I somehow knew it.
It sat atop a smooth, round hill, overlooking a deep valley filled with shadows. I shuddered at the thought of the strange, wild things that scurried beneath its bloodthirsty brambles. The chilly breeze that swept constantly along that crevice made even the trees seem to shudder with life.
Inside, I seemed to know what to expect. The floor plan was as familiar as the house I had abandoned. It was fully furnished with antiques that had waited patiently since the passing of the previous owner.
When I stopped for lunch in town and asked directions, the locals had fallen silent. They couldn’t tell me much about this man that could be stated for a fact. Most of what was said was rumor, wild and frankly ridiculous.
One old codger even had the audacity to recommend that I have the place torn down. But seeing the fine shape it was in, I could hardly tolerate such an idea.
My few belongings arrived the next day. Though the towering and cavernous rooms were uncluttered, I knew such things did not match or belong. I resolved to discard them. I had no more need for them. But for two things…
The portrait, once returned to the vacant spot above the fireplace, somehow completed everything.
The journal proved a wise investment on my part.
It has perfectly preserved all my experiments. The laboratory will benefit from modern advancements soon enough. Now, I can simply pick up where I had left off and press on to places I could never reach before.
Those damnable, simple-minded villagers thought they were rid of me? I’ll show them horrors beyond those their grandparents knew. Like those worthless relatives of mine, I will see them dwindle and perish, as they deserve.
Still, now that I reflect on the portrait, I see the time for change has come. I shall let it hang until another can be commissioned. The suit is long out of style.
And, besides, his face is pathetic and weak. His eyes are full of fear and his expression seems more than a bit touched by madness. I should prefer not to see it again.
I much prefer the face I wear now, the old one.
story by Joe Stanley