The Alchemist

(i)

From the charnel houses of this great city
And from the midnight graves of hanged felons,
The Alchemist collected the broken bones,
Inert brains and disgusting viscera
Of a score of corpses.

He paid his Burke and Hare well;
Neither their extraordinary efficiency
Nor the weird rumours he heard about them constantly,
Bothered him in the slightest
As he continued with his work round the clock,
And, in the course of a mere seven weeks,
Assembled the artificial man
Into which he would attempt to infuse life.

“Dear God, give now this morn
The spark of life to this un-born!”

The Alchemist stood over the inert form,
The corpse that was not a corpse,
The adult that had never been a child or an embryo,
The creature that was dead, yet would soon live,
The man, the human being he had created
IN HIS OWN IMAGE,
And watched in awe as its dull, yellow, liquid eyes
Flickered open for the first time:

“GENESIS!”

Then he looked a second time, and saw ugliness,
Ugliness and blasphemy of his own Creator;
Suddenly, inexplicably, the Alchemist was filled with
Revulsion and horror
At his own handiwork,
Which he perceived as the work of the Devil acting through him.

“Son of Man, what has thou done?”

“O my God, my God, my God, my God,
Forgive me!
I didn’t know,
I didn’t realise,
I didn’t stop to think...”

The creature stood over him and smiled;
A smile of gentleness,
Of love,
Of humanity,
Of innocence.

“Master...my God...”

“No. no. NO!
Begone.
Begone!”

The Alchemist seized a metal rod from his laboratory shelf
And began flailing the hapless, bemused creature,
Who attempted to defend himself by raising his arms.

“Begone,
Daemon from Hell!
BEGONE!”

The creature panicked,
Pain, confusion and fear showing in its, his, face;
He turned on his heel, sprang through the laboratory window
Showering glass everywhere,
And was gone into the Autumn night.

In a fit of rage the Alchemist wrecked his laboratory
And, when his anger subsided,
Stood amidst the broken glass and the spilled cultures,
His face a mask of torment,
His mind a whirlpool of confusion.

(ii)

The Alchemist put all thoughts of that fateful night from his mind;
His friends and his family saw the strain and the pain
His work was causing him; they forced him to rest.

He took a holiday; he learned to live and love again,
He basked in the sun,
Walked in the meadow,
Listened to the birds,
Went a-wooing,
And the world was good,
For three long years the world was good.
Then his brother was brutally murdered.

A maid, a servant of his family,
A loyal and trusted servant,
Was convicted of the child’s murder
On a mass of circumstantial evidence,
Convicted, condemned to death and executed,
But he, the Alchemist, knew in his heart that she was innocent,
For he knew instinctively who was the real murderer.

In his melancholy feeling
The Alchemist walked on the mountainside;
The world was suddenly a wretched place,
And would remain so for him until his life expired;
He looked up and saw coming towards him, a figure on the ice.

The figure was a giant; at once he knew,
Again by instinct who, what, it was.

The Daemon confronted him:
“My God, my Creator, why hast thou forsaken me?”

“Foul abomination!
Get thee at once to Hell, where you belong!”

The Alchemist would have engaged in mortal combat with his enemy,
But the Daemon was strong and swift,
And easily avoided him.

“Hold!” he cried;
“You made me fleet of foot and strong of limb,
You made me hardy, more so than thyself;
Wouldst thou now destroy what thou hast created?
And created
IN THINE OWN IMAGE?!”

“Murderer! Murderer and Abomination!” the Alchemist cried.
“Murderer of my brother! Do you deny the charge?”

The Daemon shook his head.
“My God, my God,
Forgive this wretched creature that I am,
For I have sinned against my Creator.”

“Forgive? Forgive! much rather would I kill!
For that which I created, so too can I destroy.”

But again, the Daemon avoided his lunge.

“Hold! Thou art my God, and thou hast given me life,
And I would honour thee
And bow down unto thee as Master still,
E’en though thou has rejected me, thy creature,
And cast me as an exile from Eden,
And from the company and kinship of men
Who scorn my looks, and would destroy me.
But though I would honour thee as Lord my God,
My life, be it so miserable, is precious to me yet,
And I would guard it, even from thy wrath.”

“Cursed be the day of thy creation!
Cursed be my own head,
My own head and my own hand
With which I held the knife which fashioned thee.”

“Aye, fashioned me! And
IN THINE OWN IMAGE!”

“My image?
Where in my image is such ugliness?
Where in my image is such baseness?
Where in my image is such...evil?
Murderer of my brother...!”

The Alchemist would rage, but said the Daemon:
“Hold!” (a third time),
“And hear me out,
Hear me out, wretched creature that I am,
Before you would consign me to the Pit.
Hear me out; these three years I have suffered,
Suffered from hunger, loneliness and cold,
Suffered from heartache, misery, despair,
And, most of all,
Suffered the scorn and hatred of you: Mortal Man.”

Holding him almost mesmerised with his gaze,
The Daemon told the Alchemist his tale,
A tale of sadness, misery and woe,
How he had dwelt out in the wilderness,
How he had tried in vain to seek and win
The love, and the companionship of men.

Such was the tale he told, the Alchemist
Was moved (against his will), to feel compassion,
Compassion for the wretched of the Earth,
(Be he even more wretched than himself?),
Then, when the Daemon had soliloquised,
The Alchemist, head bowed, spoke mutely:
“And what of my brother?”

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on:
Would that I had not done what I have done,
But what is done can never be undone;
Judge me ill, for my hands are stained with blood,
But judge yourself as well; your hands also are stained,
Stained with the wretchedness of me, your thing,
And also with the death of your sibling.”

“What do you want me to do?
You came to me for a purpose
More tangible than that of seeking my sympathy.”

“You speak with wisdom, man of genius,
The brain which didst conceive and fashion me
(IN THINE OWN IMAGE),
Is as perspicacious as ever it was,
Be it weighed down with anguish and sorrow.

You must give me the thing I desire,
The one thing above all others I crave:
Companionship!”
“Companionship?
Wouldst thou seek to be my friend?
After what thou hast done,
Wouldst thou desire me to extend my hand
To thee - Abomination - in friendship?”

“No, Alchemist;
I wouldst have thou repeat thy wretched work:
You must create for me: a woman!”

On hearing this the Alchemist raged,
And swore by his own Creator
That he would never repeat his blasphemous work,
But, after the Daemon had further implored him,
And swore to exile himself and his mate
Forever from the company of me,
He relented.

“Upon your oath to exile yourself,
Upon your oath to exile the two of you permanently
To the wilds of South America,
I will create for you the mate you desire.”

“You have it!”
And there was triumph in his eyes.
“I will depart to my glacial home,
And return when your work is completed.”

The Daemon departed:
Moving swift as a panther, he was soon lost to sight,
And almost at once the Alchemist changed his mind,
But he had given his word,
And his word was his bond.

(iii)

The Alchemist was slow in commencing his work;
For the rest of the season he stayed out of his laboratory,
But when he could postpone it no longer,
He took himself off to a lonely island
Off the west coast of Caledonia,
Away from both family and friends,
And from his betrothed, his darling Elizabeth.

In isolation from the rest of mankind
The Alchemist began his disgusting work;
He laboured day and night at breakneck speed,
The foul remains he’d brought to the island packed in ice
Were fashioned swiftly into human form
Hidden away from prying eyes, at least, from the eyes of men,

For as his work was nearing its end,
The Alchemist perceived this wintry night,
A face outside the window,
A face more foul than any fiend of Hell,
A face which gloated in visible horror and triumph,
Gloated as would the Devil Incarnate,
(For surely this creature was nothing less).

The Alchemist had been about to infuse the spark of life
Into the inert form over which he stood,
But, such was his sense of horror and revulsion
At seeing the Daemon’s face leering without,
That he ran into the kitchen, seized an axe from the drawer
And, returning to his workplace,
Hacked the body he had fashioned, into a dozen pieces.

When he had done, he looked up at the window
And shouted at the Daemon:
“Never! Never in the name of Almighty God
Will I create another such as you.
Begone!
Begone, before you feel my axe as well!”

In a twinkling the Daemon was gone;
At the midnight hour
The Alchemist disposed of the dismembered corpse
Of the never-living
Into the sea, dumping it in baskets weighted down with rocks.
Later, all through the small hours,
There was a howling, baying and screaming of wolves,
As if in mockery;
The Alchemist heard the blood-curdling sounds, and he knew fear,
For he had been assured by the fisherman who had carried him here
In his small boat
That there were no wolves native to the island.

That night the Alchemist slept not at all,
But the next night, in his dreams,
The Daemon came to him, and spoke to him,
Spoke to him with venom in his voice,
And fire in his eyes.

“Monster who has denied me happiness,
Or e’en a chance of companionship,
A chance to share my misery and sorrow
With one as wretched as myself.
You took from me the one thing I desired,
The one thing I need, as does every man.
You reneged on your pledge.
You broke your word!

"But here me, hear me even in your dreams,
For I give you my word,
And I will not renege as did yourself:
I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT!”

(iv)

The Alchemist returned home,
And dwelt in his father’s house.
Then his best friend was found murdered,
And upon his throat was the strangler’s mark,
As with his brother.
This time no one was charged with the crime,
And, while the authorities hunted futilely for the killer,
The Alchemist knew who was responsible, and confided to his father
The darkest secret of his soul.

“My son, what is this madness that you speak?
Your brother’s death, though many months ago
Has surely affected you more than I, or even your mother,
Could have guessed.”

“But father, what I say to you is true!”
“Protest not any more your guilt, my son,
’Tis only natural you should feel remorse
For both these frightful crimes, for don’t we all?
None were so innocent as thy brother,
And none so undeserving as your own good friend, Henry.
But, my son,
Life goes on,
And must go on for the living.

And now,
There is another matter of which I must speak,
One that concerns your future happiness.
My son, your, our, darling Elizabeth
Has asked me that I should broach to you
The subject of your future union.”

When she was but a child, Elizabeth
Had been adopted by the Alchemist’s parents,
And had been raised with him as a sister
And, brother-sister they had always been,
And yet they had been more.

The Alchemist’s parents had long taken it for granted
That when they came of age they should be wed.

“My son, you are now twenty-five,
Elizabeth is twenty-two,
And I, my son, am growing old,
As is your mother.
My son, before we depart this world
It would be the crowning of our happiness,
And your own fulfilment...
You know of what I speak.”

The Alchemist nodded his head,
And in the back of his brain he heard the Daemon’s words again:
“I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT!”

“Miserable man, most haunted and possessed,
For you there is, can be, but one relief:
The coldness and the silence of the tomb.

My father, you are right; we shall be wed!
Fear not, fear not, my mind is yet my own;
And on our union, my father,
On the night of the wedding of your two children,
Everything will be all right,
All evil will be ended,
All wickedness and baseness will cease,
And to all tortured souls there will come peace,
Perfect and everlasting peace.”

So did the Alchemist commit himself,
And swiftly came the day of his wedding.
And the night of his wedding.

In the wedding bedroom sat his new bride,
While in the outer chamber sat the Alchemist himself,
A brace of loaded pistols at his side.

“Darling Victor, please come to bed,
And let us consummate out union.”

“Later my Love”, he lied,
“For there is something I have still to do
Before we can be truly man and wife.
Take you to bed and sleep:
The sleep of beauty,
The sleep of goodness,
The sleep of innocence.”

Alone in the outer chamber
The Alchemist sat, fingering his pistols.

“Come now, Daemon, monstrosity from Hell,
Come now and feel the vengeance of the just,
Come now and take, or try to take, the life
Of he, who in a fit of madness
Gave you form, shape, substance, and even Free Will.

Come now and face your Creator,
(Also your destroyer),
For the final time,
For after this night you shall breathe no more,
But be consigned to everlasting Hell,
Where you belong.

And I shall be free, and at peace,
For after I have rid the world of you,
I shall be absolved of all my sins,
And shall, this same night, face my Creator,
And face him with a clear conscience,
For I will have made redress and sacrifice for my sins;
Redress and sacrifice: your life for my own.”

He stayed awake long into the small hours
When he succumbed at last, in part, to sleep.
Then, from the bedroom came a chilling scream:
“Aaaaahhh!”

The Alchemist was at once wide awake and alert,
And, rushing through the door,
He beheld framed in the window, his arch-enemy.

“NEMESIS!!”

The Alchemist turned to the bed,
And, lying thrown across the covers like a rag doll
Was his darling Elizabeth;
Her frightened eyes stared lifelessly at the ceiling,
Her neck was bruised and visibly broken.

“NOOOOoooo!”

Three days after his wedding
The Alchemist buried his bride,
And as he stood alone by her graveside,
He swore an oath:

“By Jesus Christ and the Holy Virgin,
By God who made me and gave me Free Will
That I might blaspheme his name,
I do solemnly swear
That I will hunt thee, foul Abomination,
I will seek thee out and pursue thee
As long as my life shall last,
And unto the far corners of the Earth.

With God as my witness,
I do solemnly swear
That I shall destroy that, which in madness or sin, I created.”

(v)

So came the chase,
Across the wilds of Northern Europe,
Up into and through the Russian hinterland,
And finally across the tundra itself.

At every stage of his journey
The Alchemist found a dozen clues that the Daemon
Had shortly passed this way:
A skinned rabbit,
A mark on a tree,
A large and quite unconcealed footprint in the snow.
Here, there and everywhere the Alchemist found clues
Of his tormentor’s recent presence,
As though the Daemon were luring him on, goading him, mocking him.

One night as he slept, concealed in a hollow tree,
The Daemon came to him in dream:

“Come, Son of Man,
Come o Alchemist,
Come, my Creator, my God,
Pursue me to the top of the world,
And there we shall do battle!”

The Daemon lured his tormented victim on;
The snows came,
The tempest raged,
The dogs that pulled his sledge died one by one,
But still he lured him on,
And still the Alchemist followed,
Always a day’s ride behind,
Until:

“My body tires, my brain numbs,
My hands, my fingers,
My...”

Fever struck the Alchemist,
Fever such as he had never experienced,
Fever such as few men have ever experienced.
He lay down on the ice,
His dogs shook off their harnesses and fled;
The Alchemist closed his eyes
And succumbed to the cold of death,
His body and his spirit broken.

(vi)

Less than a week’s ride from the North Pole
The Daemon unshackled his remaining dogs
And, turning them loose to die of hunger and exhaustion
On the tundra,
He trekked back slowly towards his pursuer,
For he realised that something was wrong, terribly wrong.

Over the months of the chase
A strange bond had grown between Creator and creature,
Tormentor and victim,
Hunter and hunted,
And the Daemon knew instinctively
That his Creator pursued him no more,
As had the Alchemist known instinctively
The identity of his brother’s murderer.

Eight leagues in rear, the Daemon came upon
The frozen corpse of his Creator;
He stood for a full minute over the broken shell
Of what was once a man of genius,
And wept.

As he stood there,
All the hate drained from his body,
Now there was only pity and sorrow left inside him,
Pity and sorrow not for himself,
But for his God whom he had destroyed.

The Daemon knelt beside the Alchemist’s body,
And took his lifeless hand in both his own.

“O Alchemist!
Alchemist, my God, forgive this wretched creature that I am;
What have I done, truly what have I done?
I have done evil!
I have destroyed he who breathed life into me,
The spark of life,
I have slain he whom I would have loved,
Whom I would have had love me,
I have sinned most foully, most abominably,
I have committed the most heinous crime
In the history of the world,
And now I stand accused,
Accused and damned by my own actions,
By my own guilt,
By my own conscience that you gave me.

Yet you too stand accused,
Accused of deserting thine own creation,
Thine own child even!
And for all the crimes most foul
Which were perpetrated by my hand,
You too must share a portion of the guilt.
My hand is stained with the blood of your brother,
The blood of your servant,
The blood of your friend,
The blood of your wife,
And, most terrible of all, with your blood,
The blood of my Creator, my God.
But as is my hand stained, so too is thine.

Yet now I look upon your frozen face,
Where I should expect to see guilt, I see none,
And where once I saw hatred and loathing,
Hated for me and loathing for thyself,
Now I see only sorrow,
Sorrow, wretchedness and shame;
For thou has died a broken man,
And death has stripped thy soul of bitterness,
And of every unworthy emotion.

O Alchemist! Would that you had loved me,
Would that you had not rejected me,
Would that you had not cast me like Adam from the Garden of Eden
When I had not even tasted of the forbidden fruit.
My only sin was my ugliness,
Ugliness in your eyes,
And in the eyes of your fellow men,
Men who are so shallow
As to judge the beautiful as good,
And the unsightly as evil
For no better reason
Than to suppose that what pleases the eye
Cannot offend the spirit,
And what offends the eye
Must offend and corrupt the spirit also.

Your fellow men (whom I encountered), are ignorant savages,
They are both superstitious and superficial,
But you are, were, intelligent and cultured;
They can be excused,
You cannot.

Yet in my heart I cannot find it to condemn you anymore,
You who gave me life,
And now you are gone
What is, or can be left, for me?”

The Daemon took a tinder-box from his pocket,
And, fashioning the Alchemist’s sledge and furs
As best he could into a funeral pyre,
Struck it aflame and stood back watching it burn.

“May thy God rest thy soul, my God,
Most misguided and tragic of men,
Now I must busy myself with preparing my own funeral pyre;
Somehow ’twould not be right that I should share thine,
For as we were apart in life,
So can we have no union in death,
Except that of sharing relief from our respective torments.

"I will take me (wretched creature that I am),
To the top of the world,
And there I will consign my own flesh
To the cruel yet merciful flames,
And bring to a conclusion
This most sorrowful and tragic saga of human folly.”

The flames crackled and spattered
As the Alchemist’s body caught afire,
And, pausing only to shed a tear in ruth for two tragic lost souls,
The Daemon was swiftly lost to the Arctic night.

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