The Alchemist’s Orb


© Sandra Crook

“I want my money back.”

“Why, Romano? I sold it to you at a bargain.”

“You’re a cheat, Valentino. The real Alchemist’s Orb should have turned my worthless lead into gold.”

During the argument, a street urchin slipped into Romano’s shop. “Excuse me, Sir. My Mother is sick and we have no food. Can you spare…”

“Out filthy beggar. Get out!”

As the child ran, Valentino knew the Alchemist’s Orb had worked again. Romano’s reputation was one of generosity and kindness but the Orb had changed his outward behavior to match the cold and miserly stone that was his heart.

I wrote this for the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields flash fiction challenge for 15 December 2017. The idea is to use the photo above as the inspiration for crafting a wee tale no more than 100 words long. My word count is 100.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the picture was that the object it depicted looked fake. From there, I thought of something magic and, realizing I had a scant 100 words to play with, told my small story of greed and charity appropriate for this “season of giving.”

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to


64 thoughts on “The Alchemist’s Orb

  1. Interesting to read your first impression of the object in the photo. My first impression was that it was business end of a quaint old street lamp, a little the worse for wear. I can’t imagine what you might have done with *that*, though it might have been interesting if it had appeared suddenly in some unlikely place, like next to a parked car in place of a fire hydrant just before a parking ticket was about to be issued.

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    • Interesting phrase: “the alchemy of truth”. I was musing over an alternative that might express how the function of James’ object actually differed from material alchemy. After all, his reference to a “heart of stone” is metaphorical; and the change effected by the orb was behavioral. Hence we’re considering a sort of “meta-alchemy” here, unlike the classic example of lead-into-gold in material alchemy. Nonetheless, I like your phrase. It may be a bit less precise, but it is much more evocative of the orb’s function.

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    • I suppose that’s another way the story could have worked out, but in 100 words, it might have been more difficult to pull off. Thanks for the idea though, Alice. It hadn’t occurred to me before.


  2. You worked out the allegory very well, James. I’m not sure the alchemist’s orb would be a blessing though. Charity given by a heart of stone for the sake of reputation is still of benefit to a beggar. Great take on the prompt!


      • Maybe he needed to see who he was first, not obscured under mask of false charity. Hence the “alchemy of truth” revealed it plainly. Perhaps a different orb might have worked an “alchemy of love” to produce the reverse transformation in a heart that henceforth could express true charity. Or perhaps that is not actually the province of any alchemist’s orb at all, but only of true repentance which could benefit Romano and beggars both.


      • Now that his true feelings are out in the open, perhaps a friend or the Clergy will call him on it and his former hypocrisy and help him to repent.


  3. I’m tempted to get into a philosophical discussion about whether, if his outward behavior made people think he was generous, was he not actually being generous in the process, regardless of what he felt in his heart? But I’m crazy short on time this week, so I’ll just say: interesting twist on how the Orb works. 😉


  4. I struggled with the metaphor here too. Once I’d got ‘worthless lead into gold’ between my ears, it seemed to me his outer characteristics were the worthless lead and …. oh well never mind. As you say, 100 words isn’t a lot to develop a take. It was a different take on the prompt though.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A good reminder that things take on the energy of those who own them. I liked your thought process as well. Its interesting to know the thought process that goes into some of these stories.


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