The Alchemist

by Jennifer Loraine



The aging alchemist slowly decanted the product of months of preparation into a crystal vial. He reviewed his work mentally before he could bring himself to embrace fully a personal assessment of success. The materials had been right, he thought the texts had been fairly clear on that. The rest of the work had been based on hunches, half-guesses and outright gambles. Tonight he held it in his hand, the alchemistís dream "Elixir". He had spent two years researching this project before he had begun the work on a cold, rainy April morning. Then came the laborious process of amassing the equipment; an induction oven, a custom-made automated mortar, vacuum pumps, banks of polarized lights and a supply of argon gas. Gathering the materials for the Elixir was simplicity itself by comparison;

The first material necessary was an arseno-pyrite ore; an iron ore containing arsenic and antimony. The second was a metal; iron. The third was an organic acid; tartaric acid. He had made educated guesses about the ratio at first, refining the procedure in the alchemistís version of the mathematical technique called the "Drunkardís Walk". Hundreds of attempts had given him the right proportions; ninety-five percent ore, one percent iron, and four percent acid.

The process itself was extremely complex, but not as complex as many modern industrial chemical processes. In the first stage, he had ground the ingredients in an agate mortar for six months. He had had problems locating an agate mortar, but had been unwilling to substitute a more readily available commercial mortar. It was possible that trace minerals from the sides of the mortar leached out during the grinding process and interacted with the mixture. True, he had automated the process, but he hadnít expected that automation would have any effect on the outcome and apparently it hadnít. He had merely added a motor to perform what was essentially a mechanical process. The next step was begun by slowly heating the mixture in a high-frequency induction furnace while isolating the mixture from the crucible walls by magnetic induction and holding it at a constant temperature for ten days. The mixture was then dissolved in sulfuric acid under polarized light before the last step.

The final step in the process involved a re-melting of the mixture while watching for what the ancient alchemists had called the "The Sign of the Heavens". This "Sign" could come in two forms; at the moment of melting, star-shaped crystals would appear on the surface of the solution or a surface layer of oxide would form and break up, exposing a luminous metal with starlike points. If this did not occur, the mixture had to be cooled, the liquid evaporated in a hard vacuum and the solid residue recalcined in the furnace, then dissolved in acid, and remelted.

He had performed this step over one hundred times before he gave up. It was obvious the change he was seeking was a rare ortho-crystalline form of the compound and could only be produced after many, perhaps thousands, of attempts. If he didnít find another method for producing the change, he would be dead of old age before he produced the Elixir. He considered the problem for a week before he realized he had been thinking like an alchemist rather than a chemical engineer. Personal observation and control of a single-step process wasnít the answer, he had to automate.

The effort took five months to design and build, and cost almost three million dollars to implement. He constructed a new lab along industrial lines and filled it with computer controlled robot systems to heat, cool, mix, vaccum-evaporate, and re-heat on a massively parallel basis. He installed heat resistant, fiber optic cables in each induction oven and connected them to digitizing cameras interfaced with a computer utilizing Fast Fourier Transform image recognition software to detect visual changes on the surface. One hundred simultaneous processes ran completely under microprocessor control while he read alchemy texts in his den and waited for the master computer to report positive results. After seven thousand, five hundred and thirteen iterations, the "Sign", in this case, a surface layer of oxide, formed.

Then he was able remove the semi-processed compound from the production facility and return to his old lab to begin stage two of the process; an oxidizing agent, potassium nitrate, was added, the mixture was removed from the crucible, sealed in a argon-filled chamber with a desiccating agent to protect the compound against the air and damp, and allowed to stabilize. He had deduced that the period of stabilization, "the ripening until the first days of Spring" as the ancients had termed the interval, should be the same as the time between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox and he had therefore allowed the mixture to "rest" for one hundred and twenty days. During this time he cut and polished a vial from a single artificially-grown, quartz crystal composed of chemically pure silica.

After this period, he began the next stage known as the "preparation of darkness". He placed the mixture in the vial and sealed it in a hard vacuum. He put the vial in the induction oven and heated it slowly until it became incandescent and then slowly cooled it.

He repeated this step multiple times until the mixture phase-shifted into a blue-black fluid known as "ravenís wing". The heating-cooling cycle was repeated to produce the second phase shift, characterized by a white color and called "The Stone of Whiteness". This was the phase of the "Stone" which was fabled to be capable of transmuting metals into silver. He continued with the process until the third and final phase shift was produced; "The Stone of Redness", characterized by a ruby color, which was said to be capable of transmuting metal into gold. When this stage was reached, he cooled the mixture, solidifiing it into a loose paste. He placed the vial in a light-proof box and carefully vented the vialís contents to the atmosphere, which crumbled into a fine dust immediately on contact with air.

This was the "Alchemist Egg", upon which both fortunes and lives had been wasted. But the "Egg" was not what this particular alchemist had lusted for, he wanted the remains of the "Egg" that were left behind in the vial. He took the dregs and sealed them in a light-proof container with triple-distilled water and agitated them magnetically in a temperature-controlled environment for three months before it was ready.

This was his crowning achievement, tonight he held in his hand the product of three years of intense labor . He had succeeded, this was the Water of the fabled Philosopherís Stone, The Elixir of Life!

Philip Kronos, aged inventor, chemical engineer, wealthy investor, scholar, and sometime alchemist mused over his rediscovery of the Philosopherís Stone. The Stone itself was nothing to him, he had plenty of money, enough to last a lifetime, a score of lifetimes. He didnít need gold. He wanted the other promise of the Stone - the Elixir of Life. Philip was getting old.

He thought of the drawings that accompanied the ancient treatises on alchemy. It was the drawings which had initally attracted him to the search for the Stone. Intense study of the pictures had given him the clues necessary to solving the ancient riddle. One drawing in particular had attracted his attention five years ago while doing some historical research. It was the famous drawing of "The Siren of the Philosophers" which depicts the Goddess who pours milk and blood from her paps; the milk symbolizing the Elixir of Longevity and the Blood symbolizing the Blood of the Green Lion, i.e., the gold of the philosophers. When he saw the drawing and recognized what it implied, he knew he had found his own, his personal, holy grail. This was what his life had been leading up to; this would be the crowning achievement, the culmination of all he had accomplished in his life. Even his marriage paled in comparison to how important success with the Elixir had become to him. His wife, Diane, was merely part of the process. She had provided the impetus, the need to begin the work. She made life livable, but the Elixir was life itself! He wanted the Elixir of Longevity for his own.

A picture titled "L'Azoth des philosophes" or "The Material of the Work" by Basile Valentin of Paris drawn in 1659 gave him the first clue about which acid to use before the final step in stage one. The drawing depicts a man carrying the universe with this explanatory inscription, "Vistita Interiora Terrae, Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem" which translated as "Visit the inner parts of the earth; by rectification thou shalt find the occult stone". The first letters of the Latin incription form the word "vitrol". Vitrol was, of course, sulfuric acid. He had found the entire drawing inpirational. On the lower left side, a triple face on the ground signified prudence or caution. On the lower right, a naked babe reading the alphabet indicated the work would be of infantine simplicity.

"Well...," he thought to himself while looking at the finished product in the crystal vial, "it wasnít exactly infantine simplicity, but it wasnít all that difficult. Merely expensive and time consuming. I think itís time to go and tell Diane about my success. After this, Iím never doing any research again. Iíve contributed enough to better peopleís lives in the world, itís time I relaxed and let the world take care of me. Iíll be a man of leisure for the rest of my life. And with this Elixir," he chuckled to himself, "Iím going to have a very long life indeed."

Philip slipped into the bedroom quietly with his treasure. He stood listening to Dianeís soft snores. "Youíre only twenty-four," he thought, "when you start showing your age Iíll prepare another dose and give it to you. All the work was for you anyway. Iím thirty years older than you are my darling, how long would it have been until I became too old for you to love. You deserve better than to take care of a decrepit old man in your middle age. Twenty, perhaps thirty years at most and I will either be dead or a bedridden, senile old man. The Elixir will restore my youth and weíll celebrate life together."

He disrobed silently, dropping his clothes on the floor. He would take the Elixir, the lay down in bed beside her and wait for the potion to take full effect. He planned to wake her when he was rejuvenated and then they would make love all night. He removed the stopper from the vial and drained the precious liquid in a single draught, dropping the empty vial to the carpet. Instantly he felt a tingling fire in his stomach; it grew rapidly, spreading to the tips of his fingers and toes. A jolt of energy sluiced through his spine from the sacral vertebrae to the top of his head.

He felt like he was floating above himself. Everything in the room seemed to have acquired additional dimensions. He turned around mentally and saw himself standing there, surrounded by an enormous scintillating golden aura. Vast avenues of knowledge opened themselves to him as he became attuned to the Universal Source. Concepts and realities beyond imagining revealed themselves to him and he stood gaping in wonder at the beauty of Everything.

While he stood, the Elixir continued to work, rejuvenating him, youthening his organs and his limbs, temporarily reversing the arrow of entropy and rewinding the biological clock. The aches and pains of age fell away like a discarded cocoon. He was metamorphysising into a new, younger self with every minute, Five years, then ten years, twenty years raced by. His time damaged tissues repaired themselves down to the cellular, then the DNA level. He felt turgid with vitality, he radiated health. Another ten years vanished, and he waited for the process to stop. He wondered for an instant why the process had not slowed and stopped.

Comprehension came to him, and with alarm he knew what had happened. All the machines! All the computer-controlled devices he had used to speed the process up and save time and trouble, they were the root of the problem. The formula had called for months of grinding the mix by hand, heating, cooling and reheating the mix, over and over, watching every step of the process. The observation, the physical labor itself was part of the formula! Psychological and philosophical changes were necessary before the Elixir could be used safely. He had taken a shortcut and automated the process without acquiring the mental discipline necessary to control the effects of the Elixir.

The meaning of "The Siren of Philosophers" was clear now; it was not a promise of youth and wealth, but a warning to initiates. He should have known that the use of a Goddess image in a male dominated culture was an obvious symbol of evil. He realized he had completely misinterpreted the drawings on the manuscript. It was not a signpost to his hearts desire, but a admonition that the process was to be used for spiritual illumination, not to satisfy the lust for wealth and youth.

The years slipped away and he became a youth of ten as he the meanings of the pictures he had spent so much time studying flashed through his mind. Here was the image of "The Material of the Work"; the triple-faced head on the ground meant not prudence but caution, and the face looked to the right, the consequences of ignoring the warnings; over-rejuvenation into an unlettered babe. The next picture appeared in his head like a slide in an automated projector. The picture summarized "The Whole Work" as the Sun being assimilated to the soul, the to the spirit, and the body to the cubic Stone, at which the darkened point of Saturn pointed. He had erroneously interpreted this as yet another "red herring" meant to mislead the unwary. Now he realized that the true interpretation of the drawing was that Saturn, the planet ruling "age" in astrology, was pointing to the Stone while the other symbols represented the body and soul being rejuvenated and then cared for by a woman, symbolizing the new "mother" of the alchemical operator. Without the proper mental preparation, the Elixir restored youth at a terrible cost; the person who drank it would be rejuvenated in both mind and body into a babe requiring a motherís care!

His hyper-awareness was starting to dim; he knew that in a few moments he would lose the last years of childhood and with it his memory and ability to reason. In a final blaze of illumination he knew why successful alchemists disappeared; they either became enlightened and vanished by necessity from the public view or they succumbed to the effects of the Elixir and returned to a state of infantine bliss, their minds wiped clean of dangerous knowledge.

He wanted to be close to Diane when the final moment of lucidity came. He moved slowly toward the bed, stumbling as he tried to walk on legs that became noticeably shorter with every step. "Only five steps away now," he thought, "five steps and five years." "Four steps left.", he thought. "Tree step, i luv you Dian!", he shouted mentally.

A curious serenity descended on him on the next to the last step. Language and comprehension were wiped away along with his knowledge. His mind was a tabla rosa on which nothing was written but his need for Diane. Speechless and incogitant, he smiled gaily and continued his progress toward his love. Philip, regressed now into naked infancy, toddled unsteadily to the bed and climbed onto the side of the bed. He crawled to the pillow and lay down behind Diana. He cooed and patted her hair on the back of her head affectionately.

Diane smiled sleepily and reached behind her with her hand expecting to feel her husband. She touched him on the shoulder, then groped further and felt a small, smooth, baby bottom. Her eyes opened wide and she awoke completely. Diane turned to see who was on the bed with her and came face to face with Philip. She picked him up between her hands and stood him on his feet, and glancing at his discarded clothes and empty vial on the floor. A look of horror arose on her face as she looked into the babyís face and saw an infant Philip. She realized instantly that her husband had transmogrified himself into a baby. Diane sat up, still clutching Philip in her hands and said, "Philip, Oh my darling ! Speak to me ! Say something! Oh my darling!"

She hugged him to her chest and stroked the back of his head and shoulders. He babbled in delight and tugged on the front of her nightgown. She pulled him back from her and looked into his face. "Are you trying to speak to me? Please Philip, speak to me!"

He smiled engagingly and brushed her hair with his fingers. "Oh my poor husband, whatís happened to you?", she said with a rising note of distress in her voice.

His leg muscles had become too young and undeveloped to bear his weight for long and he collapsed suddenly on the bed, grinning childishly up at her. He espied the fingers of his left hand and brought them close to his face and looked at them minutely, then thoughtlessly put his thumb in his mouth and began sucking it. He was the picture of a dulcetly charming, cheerful infant.

"Canít you talk? Youíre acting like a silly, thumb-sucking baby! If this is one of your practical jokes, Iím going to be furious with you!"

She laid him down on the bed and examined his body for any deformity or injury, finding only the unremarkable body of a perfectly healthy baby boy. He laid happily on the bed, watching Dianeís movements and sucking his thumb. Tears welled up in her eyes as Diane lay down beside him and said, "This isnít a joke, is it? You were trying to become young again, and the experiment went wrong, didnít it? You did this to yourself just to try and please me! You shouldnít have tried to make yourself younger for me, I loved you just the way you were! Oh my poor, poor Philip!"

He gurgled happily, blew bubbles, then grinned an endearing toothless smile and started to pee. Diane looked down and saw the puddle growing on the bed beneath him. "Oh Philip, Now look at what youíve done!", she said in dismay.

He smiled sweetly at Diane, completely oblivious of what had happened. Diane got out of bed, picked him up and carried him to the bathroom. She laid him down on his back on the floor and left him momentarily while she rummaged through the vanity drawer for some safety pins, then went to the linen closet and took out a small white hand towel. She returned and knelt on the floor beside him. "Poor dear, he canít even tell when heís peeing," she said to herself as she picked up his feet and put the towel beneath his bottom. Philip enjoyed Dianeís attentions and kicked his legs with a pleased chuckle.

"Thatís enough Philip. I canít diaper you if youíre squirming around. Do you hear me? Be still!!", she commanded.

"My darling, youíre not potty-trained anymore, Iíll have to keep you in diapers until whatever youíve done to yourself wears off.", she told him firmly.

She pulled the towel up between his legs, pulled it over his stomach and pinned it snugly to the other end of the towel to make a diaper. She picked him up, carried him into the bedroom and laid him on the bed while she blotted the puddle on the bed with a towel. When she was finished, she picked him up, carried him to the love seat and sat with him in her lap. She looked down at him tenderly as he gazed up into her eyes in adoration. She smiled at his expression; whatever he had done to his body had not affected his love for her.

She tried to remember what he had said about his latest experiment. He had told her that the Elixir was almost ready. Her delighted expression became anguished as she recalled his description of the Elixirís effects. It was only supposed to reduce his age by thirty years. Something had gone amiss and regressed him fifty-three years. He had said that the Elixir of Life produced a catabolic stasis as well as a permanent reduction in age. The aging process effectively stopped until its efficacy was reduced by time; a period of approximately twenty years.

This wasnít an amusing temporary effect of an alchemistís experiment gone awry! He wouldnít return to normal in a few weeks; he would remain in an infantís body for twenty years! She had lost her lover! Her husband had gone, snatched away by the Fairy Magick of the Elixir, leaving a babyís body in his place. She would be fifty-seven years old when his body reached puberty!

"Oh my precious darling, youíve regressed yourself into infancy!", she wept, cuddling him with both arms to her bosom. "My poor darling, you arenít even aware of what youíve lost! Your silly experiments have led you back to the beginning of your life. Youíve started your life over again, my darling. Itíll be twenty years before youíll be able re-learn how to walk and talk or be potty-trained again. Iíll be an old woman before youíre normal again."

Bitter tears rolled down her face as she grieved for her lost husband. Philip reached up and touched a teardrop with a fingertip, bewildered by her weeping. She looked into his wondering eyes and saw a beguiling infant face peering at her with love and concern.

"I still love you, darling. No matter what youíve done to yourself."

He bubbled and smiled winningly in agreement as drool rolled down his chin. She looked deep into his eyes and saw the unformed mind that lay behind them.

"Ohhh no. Oh please God no! Your mind is gone. My poor, poor baby,!", she said in shock.

"My poor brilliant Philip, look at you! You donít even understand what Iím saying! All the things I admired in you are all gone; your education, your experience, your intelligence. Thereís nothing left of you but a drooling, senseless infant.", she sobbed.

He sensed that something was wrong and started to whimper. Diane snuggled him protectively against her and comforted him saying soothingly, "Shhhhhh.....There, there, Philip... Iím right here. ...Donít worry, Iíll take care of you! ...Donít cry baby, itíll be okay."

She rocked him silently, tears streaming down her face. He quieted and lay his head serenely against her breast. "Men need women to take care of them their entire lives. They need wives when theyíre grown and mommys when theyíre small. Heís reliving his diaper days. He doesnít need a wife anymore.", she thought mournfully.

He snuggled his head closer to her, seeking the warmth and protection of her bosom. She looked down at him and sighed at the sight of him in his makeshift diaper. Diane cuddled him closer, her maternal instincts stirred in spite of herself. "Heís so helpless.", she whispered with a sad poignancy.

A fey expression lit her face and she talked to herself in a tragic prattle as if she was explaining it to a small child; "Philipís only a little baby now. Heíll have to be fed, diapered, bathed, and looked after. He needs his mommy. Babies need mommys to love and care for them. But his mommy died years and years ago, poor baby."

She brightened and looked down at him thoughtfully. "Even if he doesnít need a wife, he still needs someone to take care of him. He needs to be nurtured and cherished like any other baby. Iím the only person in the world he loves and trusts. He needs me. Heís still mine even if heís only a baby. I guess Iím his mommy now.", she thought.

"Would you like me to be your mommy honey? Do you want to be Dianeís little baby?"

Philip bubbled with glee as he reached up and plucked at her breast. "Philip likes that idea, doesnít he? Diane will be the mommy and Philip will be her baby boy. Mommy will take good care of her baby; sheíll wash him, and dress him, and feed him, and keep him in clean diapers. Philip will never have to worry about anything again, mommy will tend to him and watch over him."

She smiled down at him indulgently as he put his thumb in his mouth and resumed sucking. He had forgotten everything except his attachment to her. He was content to lie cradled securely in her arms and bask in her embrace. She grieved the loss of her husband, but at least she had part of him with her. "If I can only have one part of him with me, Iím glad itís the part thatís happy and loves me.", she thought.

He looked down, beholding his hands in wonder as if for the first time. A small runnel of drool coursed down his chin unheeded and dripped onto his chest. He stretched his hands out and played with his fingers, fascinated by their appearance and motion, grasping each of them in turn in his tiny fist. Diane was charmed by his toothless grin and infantile explorations. She chuckled in amusement as he held his foot and tried to suck his big toe. Diane tickled him under his chin and said, "Youíre the most adorable baby Iíve ever seen. Arenít you, honey? Youíre sooooo sweet, mommy could just eat you up! Mmmmm!"

She nuzzled his chest as if she was going to eat him and he cackled in delight. Diane decided she would turn his den adjoining the master bedroom into a nursery. He wouldnít need a den or his alchemy books now. Sheíd sell his books and get baby books she could read to him; something like Dr. Seuss and Winne the Poo. A rocking chair would be nice too, she could cuddle him and read to him at night before she gave him his bottle. "Heís such a sweet baby, he deserves to be pampered.", she thought, caressing him fondly.

Sheíd fill his nursery with the nicest baby furniture money could buy. "And toys too," she thought, "I mustnít forget toys!"

She smiled, thinking how cute it would look when she got finished. She fondled his cheek gently with her fingers and smiled with understanding as she saw his mouth make unconscious sucking movements. "Iíll need to get some baby bottles and nipples.", she thought. "Heís not old enough to drink milk from a glass; he needs baby formula in a bottle."

She got up and laid him down on the bed while she got dressed to go to a twenty-four hour grocery store. She buckled him into the front passenger seat. They stopped at a convenience store on the way and she went inside, purchased a small package of disposable diapers and came around to the passenger side of the car. Diane opened the door, put the diapers on the floor and opened the package. She unbuckled Philip and laid him on his back on the car seat. "Letís get you in some real diapers before you have an accident all over my new seat covers."

She removed his makeshift diaper and rediapered him, saying, "Isnít that better, sweetheart? Is baby comfy in his dydee?"

He gurgled gaily and she sat him up and buckled him in the seat. "Mommaís going to get you a baby seat tomorrow, honey. Youíll be a lot more comfortable in a seat thatís made for babies."

She closed the door and got in the driverís seat. They continued to the store where she bought the diapers, baby food, bottles and formula that were on her list. He chortled and blathered while sitting in the baby seat of the grocery cart, delighted by the pretty colors and shapes of the baby goods hanging on the racks. Philip pointed to the opposite aisle and she saw that they sold baby T-shirts and feeding bibs, as well as pacifiers, feeding plates and spoons and changing supplies. She put several T-shirts and feeding sets in the cart. She also stocked up on diaper changing supplies. By the time she had finished in the baby aisles, the cart was two-thirds full.

She finished buying the rest of the food on her grocery list and checked out at a stand with a young male checker. She didnít want to answer questions about why she was buying a full basket of baby items and an eighteen-year old boy would be too inexperienced to think that it was an unusual purchase. Diane loaded the groceries into the car and took him out of the cart and buckled him into the front seat. She looked through a bag and opened a package with a pacifier, then put the pacifier in his mouth to keep him occupied on the way home. She drove home and took in the groceries, then returned to the car and got Philip. "Iím absolutely got to buy a playpen tomorrow!", she told herself. "I canít continue to leave him in the car while I unload groceries."

She sat him on the floor while she put the groceries away, then picked him up and went to the stove. She held him on her hip while she warmed a bottle of formula in a quart pan full of water on the stove. Diane carried him to the bedroom, sat down in her rocking chair and sat him up in her lap. She offered him the bottle of formula, which he grabbed eagerly from her hand. He surrounded the nipple with his mouth and suckled hungerly. Diane smiled at his behavior with maternal patience and understanding; she was pleased by his healthy appetite. She held the bottle for him while he nursed and then burped him when he had finished half of the bottle. They sat and rocked for hours, the mother and her baby, delighting in each otherís company and affections. Later, as she drifted off to sleep with her infant son Philip cuddled at her side, she had realized that she hadnít loved her husband half as much as she loved her sweet little baby boy.


Finis coronat infans


Copyright © 1995 by Jennifer Loraine