“Gray Matter” Dark Science-Fiction by J.B. Shaw

The letter explained to me that apples were no longer allowed. There was no way they could ever be allowed again. As in, there would never be any more. No, I did not know the name of the fruit. The name, no matter how common or obscure it seemed, had been removed from all of us. If I had ever known the reason why, it had been wiped from my memory. My job was to obey orders and do whatever they told me to, as well as let my workers know the rules each morning. So if they said that I was forbidden to ever have apples… Well, I had never even seen an apple in my life, but I knew what they meant. They were not allowed anymore. That’s the story for now. It almost seemed counterproductive since the memory had been erased already, but as usual, I read the memo and rule changes aloud to my underlings.

I looked up from my desk and into the eyes of the others in my office. We all wore the same uniform and had the same expression on our faces, as we had been told to do every day since I had been here three years ago. The color gray. There was no one in the room who felt bad about the new rule. Feelings, after all, are not allowed. None of them cared. I couldn’t understand what that must mean because I had no idea what they were talking about when they talked about it. It was in sharp contrast to what the higher-ups said and did. It was like they were giving orders to people, like we were cattle, and they were the ones with the rights to language, knowing what a word meant and using it with conviction. Care. I think I used to care for things.

Here at the office, everything was held on an even tighter leash than at people’s homes. You couldn’t watch certain things, eat certain foods, or speak to certain people. Even though I was a middle manager and had been altered more than my peers, I still held on to more memories than what was deemed appropriate. I kept it a secret. I remembered what deer tasted like. What it meant to be alone and camping beneath the stars. As I gave my workers their assignments for the day, I thought of the first time I met the higher-ups. And how life used to be. Life used to be strange and wonderful, albeit strange in a familiar way. But nothing was stranger than the day I saw the sky light up and take me to meet the bosses.

The sky was clear that night, and the moonlight reflected beautifully on the lake, creating a picture of tranquility for those looking out on the water. And yet it didn’t last long, because there were three men standing at the shoreline who seemed to have no intention of letting nature remain. Between the mountains and that little valley where I lost my innocence, it was only natural that a predator would catch its prey unaware. It was too beautiful and serene. Like a gazelle suddenly swept off its feet by the hungry lion on the savannah, I felt as if I was lying there, feeling the jaws of my killer close around my neck. I watched them closely as the night sky changed colors.

It wasn’t as if I was trying to escape, either, which perplexed me. But at the time, it only felt right to stand there as they approached. What they wanted to do with me was unknown, but I didn’t mind the situation one bit. I could live with anything as long as it kept me occupied. There were some things that were simply not worth the effort to fight for, and for some reason running away fell into this category. It wasn’t placed there by me. Ever since I left home, my life had consisted of doing what I liked best: being alone and living off the land. And while I would normally walk away from any hunter or fisher that wanted to exchange small talk, their presence had me tethered to the ground. Little did I know, my life as a hermit was about to come to an abrupt end.

It was like they were calling out to me and begging for my attention. The thought never crossed my mind to refuse. At first, when the shadows began to creep into the valleys, I thought that they had been sent by someone I knew from days past. Or perhaps they have been waiting for me. But then I noticed how quiet everything was—how completely still—and my hair stood on end. My heart quickened at the prospect of meeting new people, but a few minutes later I found myself running across the field toward the men’s silhouettes. In the darkness, despite every atom of my being screaming at me to run away, I found the urge to meet them increasing.

And then they were gone. As if God himself had snatched them up and zipped them up into the stars above, they vanished along with the lights in the sky.

 I fled, the fear propelling me away until exhaustion made it impossible to continue, and I collapsed at the very foot of a tree. After lying there for several hours, a slight breeze started to blow. It wasn’t warm enough for me to stay outside much longer, but I couldn’t make up my mind to go home just yet. The woods around me looked peaceful, so I lay there contentedly. A soft wind gently swayed the trees over and around me, creating a feeling of serenity. I closed my eyes, and soon I found myself drifting off peacefully and without any nightmares.

When I woke, my body felt refreshed. I tried to move, but discovered my arms and legs moved much slower than normal. I felt terrific yet tranquilized. Slowly but surely, I rose from my earthly bed. And let me tell you, this is when I lost my innocence. There before me, standing just past the forest clearing, the things I thought were men stared at me.

Their faces were contorted and wrong, with expressions I could only describe as mimicking the human condition. Gray and large-eyed, taller than two men, and unnaturally slender, Their eyes burned into mine, commanding me to remain still. Powerless to resist, I could only stand there and scream in fear. Suddenly, the memories of last night flooded my mind.

When the creatures disappeared, they took me with them. They put me in a suit of gray, just like their skin. They gave me a job, expected me to do it with skill, and commanded that I start hiring immediately. One of them put its hideous face inches from mine, commanding me with the darkest thoughts and tongues untold and lost to history. Like demons hissing in the mist, I listened to the voices it telepathically planted. Like the seeds of a horrible plant, they took root and dug deep into my brain. They held me there, perpetually floating in purgatory, and stripped me of my identity. Humanity. Like them, I became inhuman.

“Gerald!” my boss yelled. I snapped out of the memory, realizing I had drifted off again.

My”Yes sir?” I asked the teleprompter, clicking my pen rapidly in nervousness.

“You spaced out again! Take another pill and get back to work!” his voice said as it cracked through.

I opened up my pill bottle, throwing one into the back of my throat before swallowing without water. His voice came through once again.


“And nervously clicking pens is now forbidden. Throw that one away; I will send someone with a fountain pen shortly. You are being watched,” my boss hissed.

I dropped the pen into the little gray wastebasket with a solid clunk. I shifted uncomfortably as one of the higher-ups came into my office. It placed the new pen on the desk.

“Assume the position,” it said with a hungry look in its dead eyes.

I placed my head atop the desk, allowing it access to my brain beneath the glass plate at the rear of my skull. Before I cared, I might have been in shock. But I just sat there as it licked its lips. It was lunchtime. The higher up opened my brain, its black tongue descending to the gray matter like a leech, as I struggled to recollect the unnamed piece of fruit I had in my lunch pail.

Joseph Shaw lives in Buchanan County, MO and works as a foreman for a manufacturing plant. He is an emerging writer with a love and passion for the horror genre. While writing is his passion, his outside activities include fishing, spending time with his wife and child, and cooking.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream fiction and poetry with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

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