The Missing Ingredient
November 12, 2019
I sigh and fold my arms. My apprentice looks at me expectantly. “Another failure, master?” I don’t bother to answer his stupid question. Of course, it was a failure. The boy often asked the obvious. The same banal questions. Did it work, master? Did it work, master? Did it work, master? Is he an idiot? Does he not have eyes to see? I unfold my arms and begin to drum my fingers on the tabletop. I can see the vial. It rests in the holder. The liquid looks inert and dull, not what I was hoping for at all. I sigh again, lift the thing and throw it, contents and all, against the wall where it smashes into pieces. The fluid slowly creeps down the surface. It will do no damage, that I know for certain.
Ignoring my useless apprentice, I stare out of the window at the darkening sky. Why won’t it work? I know the instructions by heart. I’m sure I’ve followed them correctly, but in the end, it is always the same result. I know that it can work. I’ve had seen my master do it with my own eyes many years ago. Back when I was as young and useless as my own apprentice. How did he do it? Is there some trick I’m missing? If only I could ask him. The old fool is long gone, died in his sleep and taken all his secrets with him. Selfish to the very end. One of those secrets being the trick to this potion. Everyone in the village needs that concoction all of a sudden. They line up day and night asking for it. I send my worthless apprentice out every day to tell them to piss off, but still they return.
I hear a creak. My apprentice is still stood in the exact same spot. I had all but forgotten he was there while I was lost in my dark thoughts. I peer at the boy for a moment. What is wrong with this simpleton? Why can’t he think for himself? Clearly, the experiment is over. He can go about his business until I need him. The boy looks nervous under my gaze. I almost enjoy the power I can exert over him just by looking at him, but this is a waste of time. “Well, don’t just stand there, boy. Be a good apprentice and clear that mess up!” The boy must be thankful for the distraction as he races to grab his dustpan and brush. At least he is good for something. I turn my attention back to staring out of the window. The sky is now dark. The moon is beginning to peek out of the clouds. It will be a cold night, I think.
Back to the problem at hand. What am I doing wrong? Is it the ingredients? I list them off in my head.
The head of the Blanver Beetle
The blood of a Shenff
The semen of a Clapitumus Whale
The buds from a Tubula Zaf
The dried-out penis of a virgin Han
Everything is there and thoroughly in order. I scratch behind my ear. Maybe I have missed something. I abruptly stand, which makes my apprentice flinch. I tut at the boy’s weakness as I walk past the table and head to the bookshelf. Ten thousand years of knowledge is kept within these manuscripts. All the great Master Alchemists have used these mighty tomes, many of them wrote them themselves. I have not begun to contribute. My master died too soon to fully complete my training, the stupid old cretin. I only have these books and some decent guesswork. Still, I’m the only passable Alchemist in the region, so I will get by for now.
I pull the book down that I need. It’s heavy in my hands. I huff and puff as I walk back towards the table and drop it on to its wooden surface with a thud. Master Clem’s Guide to Potions and Powders. I open the book and quickly flip through the pages. They are filled with Master Clem’s spidery handwriting. A great Master of Alchemy he was, a master of grammar and spelling he was not. He seemed to have been a particularly messy individual, even for this profession. The pages are speckled with who knows what. I find the page I need and open it. I skim through the lines. What have I missed? My apprentice momentarily breaks my concentration when he drops some of the glass. Useless idiot. Maybe I should get myself a new apprentice. Someone who isn’t a blithering idiot. I ignore him as best as I can and continue to scan down the page slowly. I’m determined to find a mistake somewhere. I reach the bottom. The dried-out penis of a virgin Han, a species of bat native to the steaming jungles of the northern hemisphere.
Nothing. It’s exactly as I expected it to be. Back to the drawing board then. Another sigh escapes my lips, and I begin to close the book. But wait, what’s that? I open the book back up and lean forward to get a better look at that bottom ingredient. I practically press my face up against the page. There is something on there, a lump of something. I scratch at it very carefully. It breaks away on my finger. I give it a sniff. Is that peanut butter I smell? I straighten up and wipe my finger on my gown. Now I can see the final ingredient correctly — the dried-out penis of a virgin Man. My heart stops. I have been reading it wrong this entire time. I cannot believe it! How could I have made such a stupid error? All that money wasted on those damn bats! Now, the truth of it has come out.
A delicious idea slowly takes root in my mind. I turn toward my apprentice. He has finally finished cleaning. The boy nervously stands when he realises that I’m watching him. His dustpan and brush are in his hands. I can see the whites of his knuckles as he grips the utensils. “Ca…” The boy's voice breaks. I wait while he clears his throat. “Can I help you, ma… master?” A smile plays on the edge of my lips. “Have you ever known the pleasure of a woman, boy?” The idiots face turns scarlet and his head lowers. The smile on my face widens. I beckon the boy to me as I turn to head towards the storeroom. “Come with me, boy. I have something wonderful to show you.”