Category: stories

My new short fiction piece is published

Topology Magazine published a short piece of mine today called “Water.”

You can read it here.

Please bear in mind that it is mostly fictional with few details that actually happened. However, it does accurately describe our family about 6-8 years ago when things were very tight financially.

The theme of the current Topology issue is “Thriftiness.” I recommend subscribing to anyone interested.

Nihilo – a short story

Hello friends,gustave_dore_paradise_lost_019

This is my new blog and personal website. For your reading pleasure, I humbly submit a trifle I wrote at the end of last year, a short story called Nihilo.

http://1drv.ms/QloDXz

Enjoy!

Jeffrey

Malefic, part 5, The Conclusion

Parents always identify the most exceptional aptitudes in their own children. Perhaps then I can be forgiven for what I have to say next. My little creature began to manifest remarkable talents and cleverness beyond those of other pets, and it would perform unbidden for my entertainment. I say it was remarkable. Rather trifles, I suppose, though to my eyes they were quite charming. It began with music. As I played a favorite musical recording in the evenings it would twitch its little tail or bounce a foot in rhythm – a proclivity unheard of in all the animal kingdom.

How I remember with fondness those months of our amiable companionship. It exchanged its previous unpleasant odor for a smooth, musky perfume, a smell which filled my study with a scent that would plunge my mind into endless unresolved problems relating to the human heart and its conflict with itself. You can further imagine my astonishment when it began to mimic my words, parroting phrases in that nasal metallic quacking voice it had, like the voice of an automaton. This was truly a unique thing and I rejoiced at the fortune that had brought the creature to my home.

In my heart of hearts, I increasingly suspected that my creation might be of some monetary value, that this project might not have been merely a hobby after all, even though at the time I was growing so fond of it that the thought of it reaching the age and maturity of leaving my nest weighed upon me as a sad prospect.

How things can change in a matter of just a few weeks.

It continued to fall subject to spells of agitation, like an epileptic, and no soothing words or food would help, nor would my caresses or any other medicines or any of the elements that had gone into its chemical composition, save one. If the remedy were not applied soon, it would become intolerable with its annoying cry and worried pacing, tapping its nails on the wood floor and finally soiling the carpet. When I could take it no longer, I removed the vial of salt tears and applied it with the brush as I had done since its infancy. But as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for the bottle to be emptied.

Something of a threshold was crossed the first day it fell into one of its fits after the bottle was empty. And when no other salve was found and the minutes had passed as I tried to restore it to calm, it instead became so wound up that it seemed it would burst. It climbed my pants legs, up to my chest and grabbed me by the lapels, and screamed its grating panic into my face. And I knew what I had to do, and I did it. The creature helped me of course with its manic perturbations setting my nerves on edge. I worked up a supply of my own tears and let them fall on it until it began to calm. Not satisfied with just a drop or two, it required a fair volume to do the trick and I was utterly exhausted afterward. But at least it was returned to its placid, amiable nature within just a few minutes.

Thus did our familial accord change in a single day, from the Creator-Creature model into a sinister reversal. When it fell subject to its fits of mania, it became a dominating nuisance that would not settle until it had driven me to tears of my own agitated rage, fiercely looking into my eyes waiting for the precious liquid to flow, sucking not just a few tears but the full heart of my upturned emotions, until we fell down gasping in the exchange. Each time it dragged me against my will along with it to the edge of the precipice, hung me over the edge and then released me only after the unnerving and embarrassing catharsis.

Fortunately, these episodes occurred not more frequently than once or twice a week.

Nor was that the only disruption the little brute caused.

Perhaps I let slip my remunerative intentions in my sleep. Or did it detect my thoughts in some curl of my mouth as I looked on paternally at its capering during the happy periods. I do not know. For all I know it could have spawned an endowment for telepathic congress with me, its maker, so precocious was the little beast. Whatever the cause, the creature ceased to be the playful toy and began to slink around the house with a new, melancholy aspect.

It seemed to be entering adolescence, and it was scarcely even a year old. The transformation occurred within only a week or two, and soon it rarely showed its face at all. I would only hear galloping thumps across the floor of a distant upstairs room. I would catch a glimpse of its tail disappearing underneath the sofa. I would hear its metallic quacking, murmuring its complaint to itself, and would be unable to determine from which direction it came. It ceased giving off any odor whatsoever, and I concluded it had reached the equivalent of its young adulthood. Any facet of its appearance that previously would have struck one as charming or playful began to dull and its expression came to resemble the cynical cock-eyed, wry-mouthed configuration of a spent and embittered octogenarian philanderer.

The tear applications ceased. No longer did it need them. It was full grown. When I would happen upon its hiding place as I searched for an old umbrella in a dark coat closet, or descending into the basement late at night with my lantern to check the furnace, or near the attic access, it would cast me a look of anguish, a look of the injured adult-child, and then would spring away into a dark recess.

Some nights as I tried to sleep in the cold, empty house, I would startle awake and find it peering into my face intently, as if to supplicate its maker for the answer to the greatest question. Why was it here? Why was it created? Was it merely to lie pent up in the old mansion, to spend its days in a the dark recesses? Surely there must be more, its eyes said. I read the question in its face, but I could give no answer, for I did not know the answer. Could I have communicated with it, I would have explained my similar inquiry, the first and greatest of questions, as all the race of mankind has inquired since the dawn of sentience. I had created it, but could I tell it why? Could I say that it was just a plaything, a hobby, a way to pass the cold winter nights? And what if the same answer had come back to me in response to my inquiry, in the language of mankind, rather than pregnant, scintillating silence?

That is the way things stand. Even now, throughout the telling of my tale, its claws tap and scrape along the attic floor two stories up, around and around. I will see it occasionally and it will bristle in my gaze, and look at me briefly in the corner of its eye before dashing away. I must find a new home for it before we both go mad.

Malefic, part 2

Chemicals and their esoteric connection to the sustaining of life had always held a particular fascination for me. From the earliest days I would put salt on a slug, and as it melted, quickly apply a solution of camphor and ipecac and watch as it regenerated before my young boy’s eyes. Metals were easy to work with. I never did succeed in turning a base metal into gold, but with the help of a strong electrical pulse and copious applications of saliva, I did succeed in transforming dysprosium into molybdenum. Sadly I only produced the effect once. I attribute this to the fact that I had a throat infection at the time and the bacteria in my spittle was surely the key to the transformation.

When I decided to try my new endeavor, the winter was especially tumultuous and I could scarcely get out of the house. When necessity required it, I would don my grandfather’s black rubber coat and hat. And reluctantly, amid in the fierce night storms and black snow flurries and tornadoes, I would venture out for what I needed, bracing myself against the sleet, scampering from porch to tree to shed as the lightning pursued me with malice, snapping at my heels. It was just such a night when I felt I must procure some new diversion or go mad. Under black skies and violent weather, I set out for a curiosity shop of some acquaintance.

The man at the counter did not speak proper English, and the parcel he gave me was labeled in a language that resembled his throaty, tongue-heavy speech made up of various gargling sounds and Nordic vowels and an occasional cumbersome English adjective. “Alchemic,” he kept saying. He pointed at me and to the package, and then to heaven, saying “alchemic!” repeating it with gesticulations, saying it now slow, now fast, and finally beating the countertop with his fist as if this would stir my comprehension. In response to my request for a hobby kit involving chemical elements with biological applications, he had disappeared for several minutes in the rear of the shop and, returning, produced the parcel previously described. “Alchemic,” he croaked. Finally I discerned that he was speaking of alchemy.

“Ah! Alchemy. Yes, I know something of the subject,” I replied, and I tried to describe to him my success with molybdenum. I surrendered after a moment when I realized that I was wasting my time with him, for he merely looked at me with an increasing intensity and a guttural diphthong utterance at random points that momentarily interrupted my tale. As I attempted to carry on casual shop clerk banter, he was becoming more and more animated, if that can be imagined. And the more I tried to thank him and ask about the parcel, the more be began to pound the countertop and to point his finger in my face and finally to shout what I can only assume to be rank profanity in his glyphic and forgotten tongue.

And when he seemed to have expressed the burden of his dialectic in the fury of passion into which he had lathered himself, he fell silent and pointed to the door with a resolute finger and his head bowed. “But I have not paid you yet,” I protested, in response to which he returned to his apoplexy. And in blushing astonishment before his leaping and stamping and swooping gestures toward the door and his voice that signaled that a seizure was nigh, I grabbed up the parcel under my arm and I fled out the door to the frightful ululation of his pagan doggerel that summoned twelve legions of demons, or so it seemed to me.

Malefic, part 1

This is the first episode of my new serialized Gothic short story, Malefic. New episode will appear every day or two. Enjoy!

———-

Malefic

by Jeffrey Mays

I am not sure where Malefic is at this moment. It has never attacked me before, directly. Perhaps I am safe. Probably I am.

Initially, I did not know what to call it. The packaging was labeled in a foreign tongue when I picked it up at the store. Some obscure English words were mixed in, but I couldn’t understand them either. And so without the benefit of an accepted product name or description, and because of the torment it has caused me, I’ve started calling it Malefic.

If I had only spent an hour and gone to the rescue center for an old mastiff or a scottish deerhound, the whole situation could have been avoided. Although, you see, I was not in the market for a pet. I wanted something. What did I want? I’m not sure. Just something to pass some time perhaps. A hobby, nothing more.

I could have taken up watercolors again and might have even been able to sell them at the county market. I might have set up a booth next to the blind bead maker with his three-legged dog. There are other artist booths there and each one purveying their array of works of lesser quality than what I could produce. I am something of an artist if it is permitted me to say so. My pastel rendering of a Pierrot by a river, for example, was well-received.

But this time I may have aimed my sights too high. I have an eye for good art, but I am no Michelangelo. Watercolors are one thing. But like Icarus I feel I am tumbling from the sky having flown too close to the sun. Humility requires me to rephrase that – I may be more like a man who dug a hole too deep, flinging the soil up out of the hole, and now cannot get out.

Ambition got the best of me, I suppose. I am capricious like that, you know: drifting like a gadfly from one interest to the next. The same character fault has also kept me single all these years. Not satisfied with entomology or the djembe or playing farkle, I had to dabble in matters beyond my ken, so confident was I.

But it was not without some basis. My career experience in somewhat related fields, I reasoned, would make for an easy bridge to new endeavor. Indeed, I had served in the produce of modern manufacturing, of goods devised by virtual wizards with knowledge of elements and biomatter, their growth and decay, the conjuring of new creations from murky steaming vats in warehouses. I had been employed at various times in these industries that produced useful new products to populate the shelves of retail stores

As a young man I had assisted old Dr. Whitfield many a’night as he stood hunched over the table tightly wrapped in his heavy white cotton lab coat, those straps and buckles. And the goggles perpetually over his eyes, so dark with tint as to block them completely, like those bohemian rogues who wear their black sunglasses even indoors. I was there the very night when he turned a paste of composted mandrake and ethanol and a dozen other enzymes into a new plastic with unguessed properties.

And even within the past decade my professional labors had produced clever and miniaturized machines that did a small set of people tremendous benefits to mind and body. My customers would often venture out through the marshes to my laboratory at the ambergris distillery. Their gratitude was graciously received by me, and they inquired further about the little devices and the whirring mechanisms that seemed miraculously to produce their effect, for they had examined them and could not unlock the secret to their function. And there in the moment, I silently realized that I was not altogether sure how they worked either, but I suspected a commonly known phenomenon by which an object becomes greater than the sum of its parts. I described this notion so ubiquitous in the halls of science, and it served only to increase their wonder and respect for me. They went away bowing and smiling as if to pay me a kind of reverence.

But I digress. And even now I hear Malefic upstairs. It senses that I am thinking about it and it is pacing around the spare room again. Nevertheless I will continue with my tale.

A Bathroom Conversation

[I will return to my discussion of Faulkner tomorrow. Below is something I wrote about 3 years ago. Enjoy.]

I went into a public restroom today and noticed what is now undeniable empirical evidence that men have developed a totally new language used only in restrooms. But this language consists completely of nonverbal queues.

When I walked into the restroom, a man in a stall sniffed – louder than necessary. I realized he was signaling his presence to me, as if to say ‘hey, you’re not alone in here.’ I can only presume that he was doing this as a courtesy to me. Perhaps he was afraid that I might fart with too much abandon, or start singing out loud thinking I was alone, and then I might be embarrassed when I did notice someone else in the stall.

I have been noticing this now for a couple of years, and I am trying to piece together the rudimentary elements of the new language that is developing – an anthropologist’s dream – to be able to witness a new form of communication developing in its natural habitat.

So here for the first time, I will share with you a typical conversation using this new language with translation. I may post further advancements in future blogs as my vocabulary grows.

[I walk into the men’s room and go the urinal.]

Stall 1: Sniff. [Translation: Heads up, sir. There is someone else in this bathroom.]

Me: Cough. [Thank you, friend. I will be careful of my behavior.]

Stall 1: Rattles newspaper. [Splendid. Now, no need to get too friendly.]

Stall 2: Ahem, Ahem. [I say lads, just letting you know there’s a third one here.]

Me:  Sniff. [Yes, I could already tell by the odor coming strongly from that stall.] Sigh. [If you don’t mind folks, I need to concentrate here.]

[Long pause.]

Stall 1: Uncomfortable silence. [Would one of you gents be so kind as to turn on the tap? It might stir things up a bit, ay what? Might also deliver me from some embarrassment over the terrible splashing that is about to occur.]

Stall 2: Rustling loudly with pants and zipper. [One moment old chap, I’m happy to oblige. Just let me tidy up my trousers.]

Me: Heavy sigh. [I bloody wish both of you wankers would get out of here so I could bloody well concentrate.]

Stall 2: Especially loud flushing. [There you are, old man! That should help things a bit. A good rushing water sound usually helps me. Better let it go fast before the flush is over. You too, at the urinal. Go ahead, I can’t hear a thing!]

Stall 1: Cough. [Sir, you are a gentleman. I hope you will let me buy you a drink.]

Stall 2: Clattering door latch and squeaky hinges. [No need to thank me, old sport. I know how it can be. We’re all in this together, right-o!]

Stall 1: Vigorous unrolling of approx. 15 feet of toilet paper. [If only my ex-wife and I could communicate this well, our marriage might have lasted. As it is, she’s run off to Strattford on Avon with some bloke from the bankers office. Bloody wretched business. But as Dr. Johnson said, “a man of genius is seldom ruined but by himself.” I have to catch the trolly at 6, so let me get you that drink. What’ll you have?]

Stall 2 man at sink: Briefest possible dispensing of soap, washing, drying hands on paper towel. [Really, there’s no need. I trust you would do the same for me.]

Stall 1: Quick flush. [I insist!]

Stall 2 man exiting: Casual, relieved exit. [Very well, sir. Gin and a dash of elderflower cordial. Shot of apple juice.]

Stall 1: Exit briskly without washing. [brilliant! Make it two!]

Me: Sigh. [Great ceasar’s ghost, finally a chap can have a bit of peace without those two yammering on.]

Two Women

Two women worked in a field. One was very diligent. The other took frequent breaks and was considered a bad laborer.

The diligent woman was praised by everyone. She gained a reputation with the farm owners and in the markets. But the other woman had only a few unhealthy friends. By her hard work, the diligent woman raised her standard of living. She moved into a bigger house in a quiet suburb and bought many fine things to enjoy. She bought a 55″ television and she would fall asleep in front of it every evening after a hearty and nutritious dinner.

The diligent woman developed new ways to increase her production, and her eyes stayed fixed on the work of her hands. The other woman was easily distracted by the birds and the clouds which took the shapes of elephants and sailboats. She had to stand up frequently and stretch her sore back, and she would stand stretching and watch as a cyclist rode by. She would always interrupt her work if music could be heard, either from the nearby school, or church or even a whistler out on a walk. One day, a traveler passed by. He had returned from a poor land and told stories about how thin the children were there. “Here,” she said, “here’s a hundred dollars. Buy the children some food next time you go there.” “Idiot,” shouted the other woman from across the field, not raising her eyes. “You’ll never see that money again. And neither will any hungry children!”

There were times in the day when the diligent woman was alone in the field. She was already there working when the other woman arrived, and she stayed after quitting time, into the dark almost every day. She had developed a frame of lights that strapped to her forehead and shoulders, and it was as bright as daylight beneath her lamps. She only stopped to reload an energy drink into a backpack with a tube that she gripped in her teeth. She drove to work in a black vehicle and she wore a stylish black exercise outfit made of advanced material, with pink stripes down the side of the legs.

The distracted woman wore the same cotton slacks and apron every day, and a floppy straw hat with a ribbon around it. Twice a day she would fold out a three-legged stool and she would eat carrots and celery and watch the migration of the birds. When Daylight Saving Time was in effect, the diligent woman scoffed at her because she left while there was still three hours of sunlight left, but she replied that she just wanted a cup of tea or perhaps something stronger. She was thin, even without going to the Pilates class that the other woman attended.

One day in the field, she glanced up at the angle of the sun and saw it was time for a break. She opened her little food satchel and started fixing some saltines and cheese whiz. “There’s supposed to be a big storm coming through,” she said to the other woman, loud enough to be heard across the field. The diligent woman bustled more fervently as if to silently retort that the distracted woman had better worry about the financial storm that was going to overtake her soon. In the mid-afternoon, the distracted woman had another break and turned her face into the cool wind, and she ate her saltines and drank grape juice from a box. She saw clouds building in the northwest and instead of returning to work after her break, she sat and watched. The clouds came closer and were a foreboding gray-blue color. She noticed the birds had stopped singing, and wind was changing. She picked up her stool and skipped away toward her bicycle, and she shouted to the other woman, “We’d better get inside. A storm’s coming!”  But the diligent woman never raised her eyes. “Well, now,” she thought, “I can work in a cool shade for a change. It’s not a storm, just a more pleasant work environment. Thank heaven for the clouds.”

When the rain started, the diligent woman said to herself, “The cool rain! Let it come. It will pass through as it always does; but I will certainly not let it interfere with my goals.” The storm grew stronger and she determined to ignore it. And at last a tornado came and carried her away, and she never raised her eyes from her work. She continued looking at the fields and the work of her hands, even as the field turned and receded from her view, and the storm lifted her into the sky.

And the distracted woman trembled in the dry storm shelter, and pitied the diligent woman, sitting in safety among the other distracted folk who had seen the storm coming.

© 2017 Jeffrey Allen Mays

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