An old man named Clod sat atop a mountain and stared at a stone.
He had been staring at the stone from sunrise to noon, then again from sometime in the evening to just before sunset, every day for the past thirty-six years. He subsisted on fish and water from a nearby river, fruits and nuts he would gather in the few hours a day he wasn’t staring at the stone, and meat from the occasional small mammal that would carelessly enter his camp. Whenever he wasn’t eating or resting or relieving himself, Clod was sitting down, Indian style, arms gently set upon his knees as though meditating, and staring intently at the stone.
The stone itself was nothing special. Clod had chosen it carefully; in terms of symmetry and smoothness it had few equals on the mountain, but it had the same intrinsic value that one might naturally attribute to a stone: that is to say, none at all. However, to Clod, the stone held a great deal of significance. To Clod, the stone was legacy, his life’s work made tangible. Either it would amount to everything and cement his place among history’s greatest magicians and philosopher-kings or else it would forever remain unchanged and Clod would die as the stone had lived: forgotten and unremarkable.
Unblinking, Clod’s eyes fixed upon the stone, wishful and willing. Inside the old man’s mind was an enigma unraveling, was atomic dissociation, was all knowledge gleaned from a life of astronomical studies, was the awareness of realms beyond Man, was cosmos, was sensibility, was spirit and soul and mentality condensed, was a lifetime of singular focus, was unbreakable resolve.
Inside the stone was the culmination of Clod’s efforts, a core transformed by mind alone from common rock to something of value. Gold, perhaps, as the ancients once chiefly suspected, or else it was something greater; stardust perchance, maybe the aether of space condensed into mere cubic inches. Whatever transmutation was fruiting under the stone’s common façade was the result of thirty-six years’ worth of inhuman will and unparalleled enlightenment.
Then, of course, there was the possibility that, beneath said façade, there was simply more stone. That the stone was unchanged from what it had always been. That the stone would always be a stone as ash would always be ash, as dust would be dust.
Something that terrifying, Clod could never conceive. That three and a half decades of his life had been spent in isolation only to conclude in perhaps the most disheartening failure ever to befall a single man. This prospect once horrified Clod to his core, but he had long since absolved himself of that possibility. No, he was sure that one day the stone would complete its evolution, that one day his brainwaves would finish the job and in one glorious moment the stone would transform into riches before his eyes and in that moment he would finally know the glory that only one who has achieved an inimitable success could ever experience.
Clouds overhead. Clod often retreated into his cave when storms brewed, but here he could feel in his mind that he was close. Rain misted, then fell. Poured. Flashes of horizon, thunder off in the distance. Eyes unblinking. Enigma unraveling, atomic dissociation. Cosmic awareness. Metaphysicality incarnate. Unbreakable resolve yet unbroken.
A blinding flash, a bolt from sky to earth, instantaneous.
Unblinking in the face of blindness.
The stone broke. It was a breaking like it knew not to fight back. The lightning, gone. Clod’s eyes blinked and did not unblink for many hours.
When Clod woke there were fractions of stone all around him and in each fraction was what looked like rainbows made from diamonds overarching the starriest galaxy imaginable. Tears came to Clod as he felt the validation of God in his soul. It was there; he was looking at it himself, looking with those same eyes that had, for thirty-six years worked to create this new form of earth as the Lord himself must have done in the beginning of time. The greatest moment of Clod’s life, no, of any life ever on Earth, the most joyous single moment in the entire timeline of human existence.
Then, the rainbows faded. The diamonds tarnished. What was once unspeakable beauty returned now to jagged stone, went back to the banality it had been thirty-six years ago, perhaps had always been. Whether it had been by oxidization or imagination, Clod knew not, but he sat for many hours looking at the failed shards of what had once been his entire purpose for living.
In the spot where the lightning had struck, the core of the stone had been pushed a foot underground, and was irrevocably transformed, was the color of heavenbeams and angellight, was perfection, was just out of Clod’s line of sight. If perfection were a color, were a substance, this would be it, an element hitherto unknown to humankind, a rose amid muck, a glow of soul on a barren world. Learning of this situation, all the magicians and philosopher-kings in the world might marvel at the poetic irony: the very creator of this wonder would never see it, would never even know of it.