Chuck Wendig: Alchemy

The Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge for this week is called The Magic Realism Bot’s Revenge. It’s an easy on: go to Twitter and look at @MagicRealismBot. Pick a tweet from their feed to use as the prompt for a story. I used this tweet:

Last year we did this same challenge and I wrote a story called The Wind That Wasn’t. Today’s story is connected to that one, sort of. In my headcanon “Alchemy” is a prequel to “TWTW”, taking place several generations earlier. Perhaps the alchemist is an ancestor of the Major. Decide for yourself. Please to enjoy, and as always, feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

ALCHEMY

The scent of pine permeated the air, filling my soul with longing. Moonlight flowed down from the heavens, painting the trees and the earth and the animals and the stream and everything a brilliant silver. I threw my head back and cried aloud with wonder and awe at the sight, the smell, the feel of the night.

I had come to the forest to capture pre-dawn dew off the needles of a pine sapling. My alembic was set up on a flat rock steps away from where I was standing. I would collect the dew under the light of a full moon and pour the mixture over the crumbled remnants of a dead moth’s wing, ground to a fine powder. From that combination I would distill the solution known as Essentia Pinaceae.

Nearly half a year ago I’d discovered the recipe on a document that had been tucked inside the pages of a text handed down to me by my master during my apprenticeship. Notes scribbled in the margins gave me an inkling of the intended effects of drinking the solution. Who knew how long it had lain there, hidden, waiting for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand to create it and display it before the world.

It was a simple recipe but I knew the results would be incredible. If the marginalia were to be believed, imbibing the solution would enable one to actually communicate with pine trees, through speech as well as thought. The great trees are said to have telepathic powers of incredible magnitude and their long lives would surely give them a gravitas and a grace that I had never experienced from my own people. I resolved to create this draught and become one with the forest.

The proper night came and I trekked deep into the forest. I collected the wing of a gypsy moth, found lying deceased in the brush, and ground it to powder with my mortar and pestle. Cradling the bowl gently in my hands I sat cross-legged at the base of one of the mightiest pines in the wood, known to all around as Grandfather. There were saplings scattered all around the base of the giant. I entered a trance state and meditated, casting my mind outward into the forest as I waited for the night to leave its liquid gift upon the surfaces of the world.

My patient wait eventually bore fruit. I felt the touch of the night upon my brow and opened my eyes. I looked at the saplings all around me and saw them shining argent in the moonlight. I knelt reverently before them and gently, oh so gently, shook dew from their needles into my bowl. When a sufficient amount had been collected I returned to my flat rock and, once again plied my pestle, pounding the liquid and powder together into a paste.

I returned twice more to the saplings to collect more dew, until the paste had the consistency of thick porridge. I placed the bowl on the boiling plate of my alembic and lit the flame underneath it. I placed the collecting cap over the top of the bowl, its ceramic tube leading to down a clear glass vial that would collect the distilled Essentia. All that was needed now was patience.

At last we come to the vital moment. I have told you what brought me to this point in time and now you shall bear witness to alchemical prowess at its finest. The paste was distilled as much as it could be, the leavings crystallizing on the surface of the bowl as the rest burned away. I would analyze them later to see if they had useful properties. In the phial, meanwhile, Essentia Pinaceae awaited.

I removed the phial from its stand and held it up to let the moonlight shine through. It had a faint green coloration and a heady pine bouquet. I swirled it gently and watched little bits of matter, left over no doubt from the mothwing powder, drift and spin, suspended in the heavier liquid. I held the phial gently in my fingers and raised it, toasting both Lady Moon and Grandfather Pine. “Dum vivimus vivamus!

I drank.

I remember nothing of the next few minutes. When I came to myself again I was leaning against Grandfather, my head held in my hands, my temples throbbing. My mouth tasted of pine and my eyes were shut. I opened my eyes and the light of the moon, still prominent in the brightening pre-dawn sky, shone like a beacon before me. I heard the sound of wind rustling the trees around me. It blew harder, branches chittering and crackling as they swung back and forth in the gale.

Except the branches around me were not moving. There was no wind. The air was still. I could hear it, though, the sighing and longing of the air moving through the trees. Then, between one moment and the next, a voice appeared on the wind. “We greet you, brother.”

I looked around. There was no one there. “Who are you?” I called. “Who’s there?”
The wind came again. If such a thing was possible, it seemed amused. “There is no need to speak aloud to us. Simply think your words. We will hear you.” I realized I was hearing the voice not with my ears, but somehow inside my head. I heard many winds blowing, many different voices.

“Grandfather?” I turned to look at the venerable tree behind me.

Grandfather laughed, a gentle zephyr. “Yes, it is me. Welcome. We have been waiting for you.”

I shouted with joy and laughed until my sides ached. My delight knew no bounds. The tone of the wind changed. It grew lighter still, a bubbly sylvan breeze, light as a feather. In it I heard the music of the forest. I threw my arms wide, laughing in pure delight, picked up my feet, and danced to the music welling up in my soul.

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