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Dearest Friend,

I hope this letter finds you well. Please note my return address has changed, as I now reside at 24 Thornewood Drive, a small, secluded home just as I like. The family is paying me perhaps less than fairly, but they more than redeem themselves with a spacious wine cellar. You of all people, my oldest, dearest friend, know I have less interest in wine than I do a good cellar. It will serve as a fine laboratorythe chilly air is as perfect for storing wine as it is for fermentation, a process which I believe will bring compelling results.

Oh, how I wish you could be here to see it, Will. Though I don't believe the Whites are keen to taking visitors. The home is small, as I mentioned, there's hardly room to host a proper staff. That must explain Master White's generosity in granting me the cellar as a somewhat private quarters, shared only with the wines and the occasional arachnid. Where else would they have put me?

Let me tell you about the Whites, William, because I know you will find them peculiar. I can imagine your laughter even as I write you, from a thousands miles away, in your quarters at the university. There's Master White, who I've mentioned, and his wife Arabella. Their children, praise God, are away at a boarding school. The two make an unfortunate match (and I check over my shoulder writing so, even in the privacy of the laboratory): he is short and plump, much like a stuffed turkey, she is tall and thin, more akin to an exotic bird. I often think of them this way—the master and mistress—as birds. Perhaps 'tis their large noses, in that respect the two make a fine match.

The pair are quite unlikely, and (I check over my shoulder again) I dare say I don't believe they're at all in love. The two are as incompatible in personality as they are in looks. Master White is a soft-spoken, but gruff creature. He often takes to long spells of solitudethe house at 24 Thornewood Dr. was undoubtedly his idea and his alone. His wife, in contrast, has a desperate need for company at all hours of the day. 'Tis as if she will cease to exist if left to her own devices for any amount of time. Often, I find myself the subject of her attention, though typically she prefers to enjoy the company of the halfwit maid. For that, I am grateful.

I hope you've enjoyed this little picture I've painted, William, of my living situation here at my new residence. Please, write me in this way in your next letter, describe all the people you meet, the work you're pursuing, anything. I want to know your life, William.

When I write you next, I endeavor to have more to report on the alchemical experiments. I know you've chosen to pursue another path at the university, one with more traction and support, and I daresay I can't blame you. This work is slow, arduous, unforgiving. But trust me when I say I'm in high spirits about this house, this laboratory of mine. Perhaps I'll even persuade you to return to our ethereal science.

Your oldest friend,
Edward Poole
24 Thornewood Dr.
March 30th 1789

Malcolm Allan read the letter aloud, marveling at the piece of history, an artifact of another time. He did the math in his head. This William Allan, for whom this letter was intended, was his great-great-great-great grandfather. Give or take a few great's.

It was a typical Saturday afternoon for Malcolm, who frequently visited his older brother, Owen, at the hospital, which was conveniently located close to Forest Park University, where Malcolm studied Biology. It had become Malcolm's routine to bypass his usual, direct route from the library to his dorm in favor of the scenic route, which took him along the river that marked the perimeter of campus, past his residence hall, and up the steep hill to the hospital. Owen had been diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of that academic year—what should have been his final year of undergrad—so Malcolm had made it a routine to visit the hospital as often as he could, even if it meant his grades suffered.

"Dude was probably racist as hell," Owen said from his horizontal position on the hospital bed. Even in this advanced state of illness, plagued by nausea and exhaustion from the treatments, Owen always had a quick remark. It was one of the many things Malcolm admired about his older brother: he never hesitated to speak his mind.

Malcolm and Owen had had this conversation many times over the past two months, as Malcolm read the letters aloud to his brother at the hospital. They served as the perfect distraction, kept Owen's mind off how sick he felt, and kept Malcolm's mind off the near-constant fear of losing his brother to cancer. They bonded over the strange words of this mysterious Edward Poole and his close friendship with their paternal ancestor, William Allan.

"You know what they say. 'It was a different time,'" Malcolm said, making exaggerated air-quotes with both hands.

Owen laughed, animating his worryingly sallow face. It was something their uncle Jack, their dad's brother, had a habit of saying. Jack was a professor at the university and a hobby historian. He was also, like the rest of their father's side, as white as they come.

As the family's unofficial historian, Jack kept and studied many artifacts the Allan family had left behind over the generations, and often encouraged the family to take an interest, too. Most of Uncle Jack's artifacts were dull records, long-winded receipts, things of that nature. Occasionally, however, he would come across personal writings, journal entries and letters. Those were typically quite dull as well, and often revealed their ancestors' dealings with slaves—Not necessarily light reading.

Malcolm and Owen, the adult children of a white father and a black mother, weren't terribly interested in any of the artifacts their Uncle Jack brought them. The Edward Poole letters, however, were an exception. They were sometimes serious, sometimes funny, and often mysterious. Overall, the letters were undeniably captivating—And so far, not racially problematic.

From the letters they had read and discussed already, Malcolm and Owen knew quite a bit about Edward Poole, who wrote the letters, and William Allan, who received them and obviously treasured them. They knew that both men were in their mid-twenties and both considered themselves scientists. While Allan worked as a chemistry researcher at a university, Poole bounced from home to home, working as a butler. Though it was never described in the letters, Poole sometimes alluded to the incident that must have had him removed from the university, something that damaged his reputation enough to keep him out of a proper laboratory. This most recent letter shed some light on what may have led him down this path and away from academia.

"So he's an alchemist," Owen said, straightening the beanie he wore to cover his bald head. "Isn't that like, where people tried to get rich by turning shit into gold?"

"Yeah, I think you're right," Malcolm said as he cleaned his glasses with his t-shirt. "I think alchemists also thought they could find a way to live forever."

Owen smiled, but his eyes looked tired. "Well, did they figure it out?"

Malcolm smiled back, but he suddenly felt like crying. "Guess we'll have to keep reading, huh?"

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