The window blinds were rolled down and the closed sign was set on the door, an act that had made Albert wince. In the shop were Albert, Morag the dog, Sir John, Marie, Miss Henderson, and an elderly gentleman with a long grey beard.
“So, then,” said the old man, “I’m Diarmuid Mac Dubh. I daresay you’d like some sort of explanation?”
There was a general murmur of assent although the question seemed rhetorical. Mac Dubh sighed and started to speak.
“So the history books have it that I died 300 years ago in a fire which destroyed my house and killed my family. All that remained of my life’s work were some glass oddments which were undamaged by the blaze and have been kept, until recently, in the British Museum. Some of these facts are not entirely accurate, as I’m sure you can gather.
“First, let me tell you a wee bit about alchemy. You see, the Great Work takes exactly one hundred years. Completed correctly, it elevates the alchemist beyond the corporeal form, transports him to the angelic world and brings him in contact with God. The Summum Bonum, also known as the Philosopher’s Stone or the Red Stone is a mere side effect, not the goal. Nevertheless, the powers of the Stone, to extend life and create gold, are necessary to prolong the alchemist’s life and to allow his time to be devoted to the Great Work. So first, one must find a master willing to gift some of the Stone. Then the alchemist may attempt the work himself.
“As for me, my first attempt, ending three hundred years ago, ended in catastrophe. I was a mere 121 years old and my daughter, Morag, was my apprentice. You see, I had given her some of the Red Stone meant for me, so moved had I been by her mother’s death. As the work neared completion, a small amount of the Red Stone appeared. I was ecstatic, and I leapt in joy. Alas, in that moment my concentration on the Great Work was broken and success became failure. The apparatus flared violently and the flames caught the house. The three of us, Morag, myself and our dog tried to escape. I grabbed Morag and dragged her from the wreckage of our home, my skin burning. When I was outside I realized I had taken the dog by mistake and my daughter was still inside. In despair I threw the some of the Red Stone into the burning house to try to save her.
‘Her body was destroyed, but her soul somehow … migrated … to the dog. She spoke to me immediately, asking what had happened. I realized we would have to hide, or else she would be killed as a demon. We ran from that place.”
Diarmuid looked at Morag with tears in his eyes.
“My poor daughter, we have been running ever since,” he said.