The Alchemist’s Children
by Nathaniel Lee
Jen’s brother was crazy, and it was her father’s fault. Jen had only the faintest memories of the man – he’d left when she was still a toddler, so all he was to her was a vague booming voice and a scratchy chin – but Newton’s troubles were clearly the result of their father’s influence. Their father, the alchemist, who had promised to write every week.
Newt was, even now, locked in his dorm room, attempting to distill Truth in an alembic. His roommate had called in desperation after the fumes had sent half of the floor into a coughing fit and the other half into a hypnogogic trance in which they spouted strange and terrible prophecies. Jen had fielded the call in their mother’s absence – she was at the lab, working on synthesizing a promising new polymer – and she recognized the telltale signs of alchemy.
“It’s probably for the best that you got me,” she told Brandon, “since Mom can get quite irrational on the subject. She told Newt last time that if she ever caught him using anything other than straightforward, conventional science, she’d cut him out of the will.”
“Please!” Brandon paused and coughed, long and hard. “You’ve got to make him stop. Becky just walked in with a towel draped over her head and told me the date and time she’s going to break up with me.”
“My condolences,” Jen said politely.
“We’re not even dating!”
“Can you put Newton on? I’ll see if I can talk him down.”
“He won’t answer the door.”
Jen tucked the receiver under her shoulder and headed for the kitchen. Mom saved everything, in case it might be useful later. One of the junk drawers had to have her old address book and a lead on Jen’s father. “Well, hold the phone up to the lock,” Jen said. She rummaged through piles of paper, capless pens, solitary screws, and knives with broken tips. She heard several thumps, a clatter, and some muffled profanity, then silence. If she strained her ears, she could hear a faint bubbling, like boiling water. She decided to try her mother’s tactics first.
“Newton!” Jen shouted, thankful she was home alone. “You stop that meddling with the laws of reality right this instant!”