The Alchemist

The Alchemist

A Story by J F Dangerfield

A man, living in 21st century London grows sick of modern life and tries to find something that will break into the monotony. This is day one of my writing challenge :D.


To the finder of this note:

Human beings take a lot of pride in being unusual and unique. It's true that we all have a different genetic make up, the probability of two unrelated people having the same genome is next to nil, making each person a singularity in their own right. But at the same time, these differences are all we ever seem to focus on, and while great thinkers have treated human beings as a whole, as individuals we try to treat others as individuals. I've gone on a tangent, I'm sorry, let me get back to the point. Humans are all the same. Not exactly the same, they are all the same in the same way all cars are the same, they all perform the same tasks, to varying degrees of effectiveness, but to dwell excessively on slight difference is a pointless exercise. It is not beautiful or special or impressive that the billions of neurons firing off in some impossible sequence are required to carry out my automated journey to the office where I will use them to carry out automated tasks, with no passion, get back on the train and walk like a zombie back to my home, to be greeted by no one, and fall back into my bed to reset the process. We all waste our minds away, we are predictable, boring, the same.

All behaviours are predictable, that's why we laugh at jokes about the things all the members of a gender do, we laugh because we know we cannot change, that we are subject to the same stereotypes, with that element of truth to them. No one surprises me any more, not since I was a child. Why am I telling you this? I am trying to get across the concept of the dullness of Earth, the incredible monotony in which we perpetually exist. I tried a number of things to improve the quality of this life, I met a girl, she certainly improved things until her every action became as predictable as clockwork, like she had become some automaton, designed and built to always act the same way. Every word she whispered to me was like it came from a script, every touch left the same fingerprints. We grew estranged as lovers, and when I came home one evening she was not there, no note, no messages. Ironically I didn't expect her to be so heartless. I tried learning to play music, violin, I was no good, it entertained me, but the notes on the page were like a goose stepping army, marching on in unison, ordered, structured, no surprises. I learned to dance, I wasn't bad, but eventually the limitations of the human body became like a prison, like I was clawing at the surface of something that could be so beautiful, but there was nothing. I tried a few other hobbies, less worth mentioning, painting, writing, roleplaying, computing, design, photography, all monotonous, dull, impossibly dull. My life was like a blank record, just waiting for the needle to reach the end. I tried a number of drugs, hallucinogens mainly, my mind didn't seem suited to them very well, I would just see oceans, never anything more. They were impressive, I recall seeing the field in which I intoxicated my brain, submerged in grey water, no movements, just a calm, gelatinous sea. I longed for something, I wanted a bad trip, to tear me away from monotony. I set out trying to purify or alter the compounds I was consuming, I haven't got much of a scientific education, so to me it seemed like I could just mix things together and they would be improved, like in movies. Every night I would create a new concoction, and every night, something new. Some nights it would make me vomit until I had to leave for work, some nights I would see the grey sea, some nights I would have intense abdominal pains. To someone listening it will sound like I was insane, but understand, the boredom, it was pushing me to the edge of suicide as it was, if I died as a result of some potion, so be it. It was the variety of sensations, sometimes pleasure, more often pain, sometimes nothing, sometimes I would fall ill for weeks at a time, only to make a new elixir once I was well. I became increasingly adventurous with my ingredients, ordering rare fluids from chemical supplies under my company's name or on some occasions, herbal medicines and remedies from the far east. My house became a laboratory, every shelf was covered in bottles and vials, every desk had beakers, flasks and Bunsen burners, all in the pursuit of variety.

It was one night, when my entire body had revolted against my work, my hands shook from repeated consumption of chemicals not meant for human ingestion and my skin had lost much colour. One of my eyes was blurry, and looking at it in the mirror I saw it had begun to rot away, deciding I would go to a doctor tomorrow so I could continue I mixed some of my rarer components together, distilled them, added a solute, salts and crushed leaves. I drank and felt nothing. No sensation except a slight pain, indicating there was some adverse reaction. I ignored it and fell into a sleep. And that night, my boredom lifted.

When I awoke there was a rush of wind across my face, and I looked up to find an open sky, nearly cloudless, and with the sun streaming down. This was not my house. This wasn't even England, the hot touch of the sun on my cheeks informed me of this much. I got up and saw that I was on a cliff edge, beyond it were clouds, but they looked like clouds from an aeroplane window, the cliff was clearly extremely high. I stepped backwards and turned around. There were two trees, one was an evergreen pine, the other a baobab and only three metres from me was another cliff edge. I turned all around me, on every side a cliff edge, surrounded by clouds. I panicked. I actually panicked. The sweet sensation of danger, the unknown, the feeling that you are not in control, I have not known it for so long. I savoured it, threw myself into a fit of worry, of fear, I curled into a foetal position and wept like a child, such bliss. Eventually I decided to claw my way to one of the edges. Peering over I saw that below me was a vast and lush planet, green with foliage and blue with oceans, strange unknown continents spanned it. I could see a great deal of it and could make out its curvature, but as it extended into the distance the atmosphere in which I was precariously positioned concealed the edges of the world. I was high up, but not so high to see it entirely. I looked at the huge white structures, rising perhaps miles into the sky, curving almost organically like whale bone. They were so impossible, like they could be man made, but equally could be the natural product of some alien world. I looked directly below me, to see that my island in the sky, was essentially that, it had no mountain supporting it, no visible structure held it up, it made me think of the way a hot air balloon flies, only there was no apparent method of lift for the thing. I pushed myself away from the edge and looked up, to see another island. It made me jump when I saw it, that something like that could have been ignored before, the surprise was exciting. It was as I had thought, like a small upturned mountain floating in the sky, with the top populated by trees and grass. Behind it the now thick clouds began to part, electric storms swirled and raged as a tunnel opened, spinning like a corkscrew. Out of it flew a vast creature, disrupting the tunnel and spreading cloud across the sky in streams like plane trails. I cannot describe it well, it seemed more conceptual than a being with actual form, but it seemed like a cross between a whale or huge manta ray, and a vast bird. Despite its immeasurable size it weaved and ducked with ease through the armada of islands that were now visible, too many to count, like a starfield of black on blue. I then did a thing I will never fully understand. I leapt from the island, the desire to join the beast was overwhelming. I fell, plummeted down towards that strange planet, as I did a flock of birds, each the size of a cruise liner or bigger flew beneath me. I shouted in joy as I felt such a myriad of feeling, an explosion of emotion, I screamed not because I was falling, but because I was in love, in love with life once again, like that child I remember being once. I shouted, emptying my very lungs into this impossible sky. I outstretched my arms and felt myself begin to glide, the sensation was impossible to describe, like suddenly discovering as an adult that you can walk, I flew up, powered by my own sheer will, towards the islands. As I did so, closing my eyes and corkscrewing up through the clouds and leaving shreds in my wake, I had some vague recollection of a world so unlike this one, that I used to know, and that is when I awoke.

I was lying with my arms out to the ends of my bed, sweat dripping from every inch of skin. I looked out of the window, that familiar grey English sky, planes taking off like lumbering engines, knowing only a taste of the sensations I had felt in my night of sleep. I was left with the memory of that place, nothing more. For weeks afterwards I felt renewed, like that night of haunted sleep had woken me up, but could not remember the nature of the concoction I took. Slowly, the boredom and monotony of modern life returned, the grey skies, and concrete tower blocks, the unchanging nature of people. I stood every day on Paddington station, watching free newspapers fly about in dull restrained patterns about my feet as the same train rolled to a stop in front of me. My neurons had their indulgence, and were back to automation. I have tried every day for four years to recreate that elixir, with no success, like all men, I dream, but it is only of my mistakes or my work, and they are never as vivid as memories of boredom on Earth. I suspect I shall never return to that place, it is the curse of modern man that his life is extended but controlled and predictable. Perhaps I expect too much of life. I have begun to talk to a therapist about this, but I always leave out that night I spent away from this joyless planet. I will struggle to return until the day I die. If you are reading this it means I have regretfully failed in my task, and have escaped this place forever.


The Alchemist.

Police note:

Andrew Wolsley was found dead in his house in Lewisham, clutching an empty vial. He was found to have died of nickel poisoning.

This is being treated as suicide.

© 2010 J F Dangerfield

Author's Note

J F Dangerfield
Yeah, there will probably be mistakes. I wrote this as part of a challenge to write something every day for 2 weeks.

My Review

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Wow. I like this a lot. Of course, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, and this reads like it's straight out of the Victorian Era. I can imagine someone finding this in an old shoe box among some personal effects that Edgar Allan Poe left in his aunt's attic. Modern critics will say it's dated, it's depressing, it's predictable... Yeah, maybe, but it also grabs an emotional string that most people in modern society have forgotten that they have. Lovely piece of work!

Posted 7 Years Ago

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1 Review
Added on July 29, 2010
Last Updated on July 29, 2010
Tags: Surreal, Fantasy, Dreams, Monotony, Escapism


J F Dangerfield
J F Dangerfield

Berkshire, United Kingdom

English. Chiefly a science fiction writer and reader although I am interested in all forms of literature. Also letter for small comic/graphic novel projects. more..