The Impossible Specimen is an Optickal Intoxicant. It radiates a Fantastick Contagion that, when seen by Dogg or Hogg or Man or Mother-bear, infects the Host with a Disease of Absurdity; symptoms include Laughing and Crying and demanding favors from Oak Trees, sudden song and revelations, synaesthesia, chromovitreolatry (the worship of stained-glass windows), the belief that Clouds are vast flocks of microscopic Jelly-fish, Etc., Etc. Thus, it is impossible for the Impossible Specimen to be fully seen. In its short residence (1661-1666) beneath the City of London, four artists, paid in feathers by the Royal Society, attempted to depict the Impossible Specimen. None finished; three died. Quercus Rooot, the Marquis of Maybe-Not, who painted the picture before you, was the sole artist to survive his Commisioned Observance of that Awe-full Animal. He began his painting on the 77th of Junembver. Maximilian Van Duult, the care-taker of the Impossible Specimen, lead him deep down into the torch-lit corridors and thence to the locked chamber that held the tank that held the Subject. Tatters of harlequin light leaked out beneathe the door. Van Duult produced a key, engaged a lock, and pushed. In his Journal, “When I was a Human”, Quercus Rooot wrote that ‘Immediately I was forced to look down, for despite the lens of the Retrospects that I was wearing, the sight was unbearable. Twas like one million flowers blooming or booming at once, and when I closed my eyes, their petals and pistils still twisted like comets against the night.” He set up his canvas in the dark stone hallway. His plan was this: he would toe-tip to the door, eyes closed, and then, head inside, perform a sort of opposite blink. “It was a Herculean Task,” he wrote, “just one moment of vision, and its image was seered into my mind, dissolving and re-solving. Its Tentacules grew Tentacules, and those too grew Tentacules, which seemed to reach in to me, not into my Physickal Body, but into what most men deam the Immortal Soul.” After three hours, Quercus Rooot, the Marquis of Maybe-Not, was sobbing in a fetal position under his canvas. Remembering the Ordeal, he wrote “I was Terrified but Liberated, and I soared through my mind on the back of a Great Serpent, sliding through bright fog, surveying the rubble of my past Self.” Maximilian Van Duult and several Blind-folded Gonfaloniers carried him up to day-light, and locked the door of that Glowing Chamber. Three days later, wearing a pair of Hooke’s Lachrymopticons, which were reputed to help the tearful see better (and so were proposed as an anti-sobbing agent), Quercus descended again down that steep helix of a staircase, set up his canvas, readied his pigments, and flashed his eyes open through the door. Again, his day of Art ended in screams and cryptosyllables, and his trembling form was carried back up the staircase, but his canvas was considerably more full. After a week of convalescence and careful preparation he descended for a third time. He was not wearing a pair of Hooke’s Retrospects or a pair of Hooke’s Lachrymopticons, and he had denied Hooke’s offer to lend him a pair of new Hilarioscopes (through which laughter can be seen as red smoke). His Eyes thus denuded of prophylactic mechanisms, he applied himself to his work.
Quercus Rooot did not die that day. For a third time he looked at the Impossible Specimen, and for a third-time he layed color on to canvas, and for a third time he deliquesced into madness, but he did not die. The Unfinished portrait of the Impossible Specimen was revealed to the Royal Society by Maximilian Van Duult, but, as the Fellows of that Society were all line-dancing, and indeed as the portrait was revealed at a roof-top masque in honor of the first Artist to survive an attempt to de-pict the Impossible Specimen, no progress was made into the Original Question, which was by now forgot in the Bird-orchestrated merriment above the streets: just what exactly was the Impossible Specimen? For by now the City of London and surrounding environs were deeply infected with the Wonderful Plague.
“I am Gladnow forever,” wrote Quercus Rooot, “That I decisioned to make that choice to Paint that Angel’s Garden; for twas con-fused and febuddled to be a Man; I enjoy to my upmost Pleasure my new lyfe as a Flower.”
Look away from these words, reader.
Close your eyes; open them.
Are you all right?