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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 3: May 2020
Flash Fiction: 577 words
By Paul Negri

Mysterium Magnum


They say I should be dead by now. The doctors. The scientists. The priests. The authorities. My father. But do they mean biologically, as in I should not be able to function as a living being, or morally, as in I am guilty of being an abomination and an affront to their world? I would ask them, but can no longer chisel words from my stone tongue. They say it, though, more and more frequently, and with growing impatience, as if I am not trying hard enough to die and survive merely to spite them. I think they would take a hand in moving things along, except for one thing. Mother.

Mother is someone of major academic importance, a celebrity scholar, and could cause them trouble. Many respect her; some fear her. She is my shield. I must say it surprised me. Mother was never very maternal. She did what was necessary for my welfare and occasionally more than was necessary. What drove her always—drives her—is a dauntless curiosity. I have at times felt more like a specimen than a son. Now, perhaps, I am genuinely more of a specimen. She watches me with such fascination, hungry, devouring, starved for what will come next, like someone hooked on an irresistibly suspenseful story. When it’s all over, who will I be? Or what? Mother whispered, “Mysterium magnum.”

It began at my base. Just a twinge and a spot. Pink it was, like rose quartz. But not like the quartz spots I have—had—on my median ridge. It was soft, pliant, more vegetable than mineral. I ignored it. Just part of a normal sedimentation of stone growth, I thought. It would flake off in time. But flake off it did not. Instead it got bigger, rapidly, until I could neither ignore nor hide it. Father was alarmed; Mother, intrigued.

Within a week it was plain that something unimaginable was happening. Up to my median ridge I was developing into a soft, pliant mass with three tube-like extensions—one so short it looked like a shriveled stalactite. I found I could move these bizarre extensions, but do nothing with them. The doctors were repulsed; Mother, fascinated.

“Look,” she told them. “See how the little growths sprout from the big ones? And they move, like each has a mind of its own. Marvelous.”

During this stage of the development, I was very frightened. While there was no pain, I felt like I was splitting in two, losing my solid core. And indeed I was. Mother called it bifurcated. Whatever happened on the left side, happened exactly the same on my right. My crags and fissures, my rough and smooth edges, the wonderful variety of my rocky topology was softening and growing monotonously featureless. Soon two more tube-like extensions sprouted from beneath my pyramidal clef, and from those, ten thin little extensions, like writhing snakes. It was then, with my last words, I begged Mother to end it, while my peak was still stone and recognizable as her son.

But Mother would not. “How can we stop now?” she said. “It would be a crime against science.”

And so I sit with no core or base while the thing that I am becoming slides and slips and jerks grotesquely in silence, as Mother and the others wait and watch for my peak to morph into its final awful form, Mother’s Mysterium magnum. And hopefully, I will die.


—One of three Finalists in MacQ’s Magician Ekphrastic Writing Challenge

Paul Negri
Issue 3, May 2020

lives and writes in New Jersey, and has twice won the gold medal for fiction in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. His stories have appeared in The Penn Review, Jellyfish Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Into the Void, and more than 40 other publications. Negri worked in book publishing for many years, first with Harcourt Brace and later with Dover Publications, Inc., retiring from the latter as president and publisher in 2008. At Dover he edited more than a dozen anthologies of short stories and poetry, in addition to books on art and design and classical music scores.

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