The house is situated on a crescent row, nicknamed by the rustics the “h’moon.” It is not a street you will ever stumble upon, and count yourself lucky for it. The crescent is located in a part of London even London has no recollection of, a corner canopied by centuries of soot and smog, fog off the Thames tapping at the streaked glass panes with wraithlike fingers.
The row is silent and, one would suspect, largely abandoned.
Except for one house.
Standing four stories and flanked by an equal number of fluted columns, it is a study in Grecian symmetry: wide steps leading to imposing double doors, the Gorgon’s head knocker stiff with disuse; an iron gate clenches the house–the whole row, in fact–in its jaw, nothing that enters may escape. The silence is a sound unto itself, a weird sort of life that is not alive at all.
The family has a name, ancient and unpronounceable, and that name has been etched over the front door for centuries. And so too have they resided within. For centuries.
Back when Britain was a wild isle ruled by tribes, a general carved a highway into the land and conquered those tribes, and built great temples and fortresses, and erected gods that were not their own, then toppled those gods and replaced them with one. The old ways were set afire, and strong Roman feet trampled the ashes. The city went up, one they could not stop building, expanding, adding on to. The general believed himself a god, and worthy of a god’s lot, and so he built himself a home that could only be called a temple. And did things only a god would dare, until he damned himself and his kin right into monstrous immortality.
Monsters, they truly are. Or would be called, had the world even the vaguest notion of them. Their lives are delivered to the door by an equally obscure messenger, unnamed and unseen, and the h’moon keeps its secrets.
They reside in the house and move about as the anemic damned more or less will. Sunlight is stingy, and seldom penetrates the deep, cool gloom. Outside the house is unchanged since the first stone was laid but within they are not, contrary to what one might think, impervious to the changing times and trends. Though the house has been frozen in a peculiar kind of Georgian chill–parquet floors and sleek uncomfortable furniture, and marble, marble everywhere, with silent statues to drink from it–elsewhere they give themselves away.
The library begins on one end with tomes and texts so fragile they can no longer be removed should they come apart in one’s hands. They are vellum and wood, inks derived from blood and berry, languages that have been dead for as long as the family has lived. The shelves sweep lateral over leather bound eras of holy scripture, sumptuous illustration, into the naturalists, gothic romances, penny paperbacks of pulp and wartime literature, and so on. The library is a pulsing timeline, an expansive and meticulous scribe notarizing the family’s existence.
A music chamber off the ballroom holds a museum’s trove of instruments, crammed tight as a mouth packed with parts, instruments they have likely forgotten how to play. Some crude and constructed from trees long gone extinct, gut strings rotted to foul smelling floss. Everywhere the odd lute and viola, Spanish guitar and baby grand, tarnished horns and muted pipes. A pompous baroque harpsichord presides over the chaos, its dulling gilt and faded flora & fauna giving it the vague appearance of an aging diva.
Then there is the nursery, with its cacophony of dolls organized in neat militia order: crude wood and straw, cherry pit eyes. Then porcelain, painted in detailed minutiae, petite mademoiselles in their silks and embroidered trim. The plastic and rubber, more leg revealed, little Shirley Temples and Monroe molds. The nursery, like the library, like the music room, an ever expanding archive.
The children all have Latin names–Lucius, Lucretia, Sybilla, and little Marcus, barely out of swaddling, waddling about on toddler’s limbs for well over a thousand years. They do not alter in their years or stages of growth: Sybilla suspended in her eleventh year, self-conscious stammer, a child’s inquisitiveness stirred with new and acute awareness. Her older sister Lucretia ever the lovely teen, slender and sweet lipped, the feigned aloofness of one granted beauty so young. Their brother Lucius, scantly out of his teens but broad shouldered and poised to join an army long vanquished. Each retreats to his or her own corner of the house and to their thoughts, whatever pastimes they might pursue, and all the elusive torments youth bears so secretly, so seductively.
Their parents too are unchanged, a union as cursed as it once was blessed. Do they love each other still? Did they ever? They maintain a cool marriage bed, a polite and indifferent countenance. They are not so different from other couples centuries–or mere years–into matrimony.
No incestuous intrigues in this household, you may or may not be disappointed to know. They are monsters, but not that kind. No limbs have locked outside of holy matrimony, no sideways glances or ‘you show me yours I’ll show you mine.’ In fact, it can be said they have lost all interest in one another, the surprise of courtships and marriages and births long played out, the period placed firmly at the end of a sentence they do not look beyond. There are no new tidbits to share, as all their experiences are bound together and played out on a stage of inalterable perimeters. Their tastes rendered practical, they feed but do not lust.
The family has known nearly every war, every plague, every ripple of scandal and conspiracy of recorded time, age of darkness, age of reason, age of advances they’d have never dreamed prior. Each retains a particular fascination to match his or her fancy: father to his Tesla, conducting experiments of his own in what was once the solarium. Were his hair longer it would stand on end, electricity trails him like a master’s pet. Mother transforms the promenade gallery into a dojo, it’s mind over matter for that madame. Her daughter’s bedroom is so peopled with dressmaker’s mannequins as to resemble the tomb of the Terracotta Army; she surely would have made a name for herself had a single frock made it out the door. Lucius votes via absentee ballot, pens treatises and editorial diatribes—and not a one has ever reached its destination, and so his political aspirations remain unanswered. Sybilla and little Marcus play a centuries old game of hide-and-seek that never quite comes to a timely conclusion. (Once Marcus was left in the armoire for over a year before Sybilla remembered he was still hiding, that she was in fact still seeking.)
Something has changed, something is different. They swivel the rabbit ears of the telly father has taken apart and refashioned so many times, try to detect it. They scan the screens of their monitors, thumb the papers and magazines dutifully left on the doorstep each morning. It is everywhere and nowhere at once, the kind of pending doom only a million ants carrying a million miniscule particles can build. It is a doom that has taken years–centuries, really–to take shape. It is not unlike the supposed hour before the fall of Rome, when Nero played his fiddle whilst the people gorged themselves on breads and circuses. There is an overabundance they are well acquainted with, the hoarding of luxuries and sensations, borne of panic rather than privilege. It does not terrify them, that terrifying sensation; they greet it with relief, even enthusiasm. Here is their departure at last, perhaps? They’ve been teased for so long with it. They have only known the malaise of boredom and nostalgia, dowager emotions that sigh and sip at chipped chintz in quiet rooms. To the rest of us this terror moves like a lycanthrope throughout the world, throughout their city, a hybrid of beast and man. The globe is eating itself alive, the singular human strain a snake devouring its own tail. We may be terrified, but they have been waiting for this moment their entire lives. It is the only way they will know release. It is part of their curse, the whole of their curse, to witness the beginning and end, to know the bookends of recorded human time or at the very least, their own. The possibilities after are infinite.
The planet is shutting down, a cosmic custodian is turning out the lights, locking doors, lowering levers. One by one the countries close up shop, slowing transport to a crawl, no one in and no one out. There is news here and there of rioting, petty crimes and uprises, but overall the earth is sober. Devastations, global and intimate, have strangely subsided, cities under fire are now silent as snow globes in their swirl of ash. Families gather once more round the table, lovers reach for each other in the dark, a collective gaze lifts itself to the sky, reading its fate for the last time in the stars and, an astonishing first, accepting it. There is a knowing taking place, a miracle of the consciousness, the ability–nay, willingness–to be extinguished. The subtraction of ego has made the world as it once was, long before fish learned to walk and light their way with fire: only itself and nothing more.
The family cannot leave this place, their house, the h’moon. Not for death, which surely would have enticed rather than deterred a hasty retreat in times prior. They are bound to this place like Prometheus to his rock. You cannot imagine how they count down the days.
There will be no parting farewells, no lengthy speeches or embraces. They nod like comrades at the mouth of a cannon. Father considers reciting Shakespeare, Lincoln, something to send them off in sure spirits. Marcus burps blood and grins. That is even better.
Lucretia sifts through centuries of wardrobe creations, a Metropolitan Opera’s worth of costume. Oh, what a name she’d have made for herself! In the end she selects the simplest garment, a Grecian style stola the color of virtue. She snips a blossom from the greenhouse and this is her only adornment. She is an aesthete to the end.
Excerpt, London, May 10, 1942:
Blitzkrieg. Sybilla remembers standing on the roof with Marcus in her arms, watching the bombs drop, their funny name, doodlebugs. Each explosion a delight, the rain of ash and flesh they took turns licking off each other’s faces.
It was by far the best day of her life.