Tag: short story

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.

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!

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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.

© 2017 Jeffrey Allen Mays

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