The alembic rocked to a stop, but the glass tubes – all hand blown – that had connected it to the crucible – were smashed and the contents of the alembic were all over the floor. The page of notepaper at the end of the table had started to smoke and a truly foul odour filled the air. Nick turned on the vents and opened a window. It didn’t help.
“Out!” said Nick, covering his mouth and making for the door. Both men hurried out, Dave knocking the fire extinguisher off the wall in the process.
They sat in the diner and stared at coffee.
“I’m sorry” said Dave, for what felt like the hundredth time. Nick shrugged.
“The problem is, Dave, you’re always sorry. You were sorry about dropping that Cesium in the bathtub.”
“You weren’t in it at the time” said Dave, hunched over his coffee.
“It was the only bathtub we had!” said Nick. Everyone in the diner turned to look at him. Nick sat back down, straightened his shirt. “I think it’s time we face facts, you just aren’t cut out for alchemy. Or anything involving reactive chemicals.”
“I’ve worked well with you!” Dave looked wretched. Alchemist’s assistant had been a step up from his previous career.
“The major reason I employed you,” said Nick in a low, calm voice, “is that I was intending to marry your sister. Do you remember what became of that relationship?”
Dave nodded, shrugged hoplessly, turned soulful eyes on Nick.
“That wasn’t my fault” he said “you can’t blame me for my sister’s…ah…spinning wheel issue.”
“A hundred years, Dave” said Nick “a hundred years is too damn long for an engagement. And who introduced her to the delights of spinning her own wool?”
“You did. So that leaves me with two options. One – I allow the love of my life to slumber for a century and get awoken by the kiss of the first Prince who happens along, or…”
“Or you discover the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone and eternal life” said Dave like he was repeating a lesson learned by rote.
“Philosopher’s stone” nodded Nick, “eternal life. That’s right. And I’m no longer confident I can do this with your help.” Nick finished his coffee. “It’s a forlorn hope as it is, Dave, and I hate to do this to you but…just come in tomorrow to collect your stuff.”
Nick settled the bill, and left. He tried not to look at the hunched figure at the end table, the ungainly frame wracked with sobs.
By the time he got back, the lab didn’t smell like a wet, dead goat with a badly upset stomach. He began the slow task of clearing up experiment #416. He looked at the spatter pattern of what had been in the alembic, noted with resignation that some of it had reached the wall and badly discoloured the wallpaper. Then he stopped.
On the wall, behind glass, sat his certificate from the Alchemists Society. Following tradition, the President had placed his seal at the bottom. Not in wax, but in lead. The glass had been broken, the certificate was open to the air, and there was a single splash mark on the seal. Where the carpet had been discoloured (probably forever), the seal was brighter. Golden, in fact.
“Holy shit” said Nick. He turned back to the bench. His notes were at the end of the bench, his hand written notes which he would later type up for the Society and then place in his leather bound ledger of experiments. The note paper that was now entirely black except for the circular stain from Dave’s early morning coffee mug, which was the only piece not to turn into heavy black dust the moment he moved it.
“God dammit Dave” sighed Nick.