Lapis Philosophorum

As I’ve stated before (probably ad nauseum), I used to have a dim view of flash fiction. I’ve since learned better. For one thing, it’s the perfect medium for little offhand notions that are fun to play with, but probably not substantive enough to support longer work. Sort of like a feghoot, but without the pun. So here’s a new one, because it’s fun to play.

Lapis Philosophorum

“The problem with immortality,” Daniel said, “is it doesn’t last long enough.”

Daniel was my oldest friend, but he was prone to gnomic utterances. One simply had to play along or ignore him. I had learned that it was ultimately more fun and even occasionally enlightening to play along, which is why we’re still friends. It also likely explains his three divorces.

“You do realize what you’ve said is a total contradiction in terms? Immortality does not end. That’s why they call it immortality.”

“Oh, but it does. Mine ended about three weeks ago, when I had my first heart scare.”

The pacemaker was still a source of some discomfort to him, both physically and mentally. Maybe there was something at the heart—so to speak—of his nonsense aphorism.

“So you were immortal…and now you’re not?”

“How could I be otherwise? All the death in the history of the human race was an abstraction to me and therefore it did not and would not apply to me in any real way.  I was special…in the sense that I was just like everyone else who also believed themselves immortal.”

“Humans aren’t immortal.”

Daniel was in his element. “Ultimately? No. My point is the belief is almost always there. Death is something that happens to other people. So, if death is not real to you then, logically, you’re immortal.”

“The premise is flawed, ergo so is the logic. Death is absolutely real.”

“No doubt. But you must admit the belief in one is dictated by disbelief of the first. I knew I was mortal, but I didn’t believe it. Now I do. My immortality is at an end.”


He glanced at me. “Are you going to tell me that you never felt as if you’d never die? Seriously?”

I sighed. “As you say. I knew it, didn’t believe it. So I guess I was once immortal too. Is there a point to this?”

“I was thinking of the origins and practice of alchemy.”

This, too, was typical Daniel. “Are you changing the subject, or is there a connection I’m not seeing?” From my experience the odds were roughly fifty-fifty, so it was always best to ask.

“I think there is. Consider the Philosopher’s Stone, the ultimate goal of every alchemist worth his alembic. They believed it existed. Ergo they tried everything to find it. They failed. Why?”

“Because a substance that can transmute lead into gold and confer immortality does not exist, Nicolas Flamel notwithstanding, and all the futile mixing of tinctures and heating of mercury was never going to find it.”

“True. Yet in the pursuit of the Stone they collectively discovered the reactive properties of thousands of substances and laid the foundation for the very real science of chemistry. Their life’s goal was an delusion, but the result was not.”

“So you’re saying our delusions of immortality may serve a practical purpose? Such as?”

He smiled. “If I knew that, I really would be immortal.”

©2021 Richard Parks

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