Not That I Care (Flash Fiction)

Have you ever been in an absolutely quiet, serene place, void of any distraction at all?  Didn’t it feel weird?

Consider this: If you abuse your body, it creates problems and organs stop doing what they are supposed to do.  So, if you drink too much, your kidneys and liver will fail to filter toxins properly, or if you smoke, you damage your lungs and have difficulty oxygenating blood.  What about your brain?

Inane television shows, sound-bites, self-important celebrities, radio chatter, internet memes, Facebook status updates, tweets, and the general, incessant noise we surround ourselves with every day – subjecting a brain to such a relentless input of low-grade, sensational information, year after year, it’s not unreasonable to think that something had to give and it did.

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I wrote this in September of 2013 and I was 49 years old, leaving an 18-year career with Microsoft and preparing to start work as a manager at AT&T. It’s an indulgent and heavy-handed write but I’m sharing it here for those who might find themselves in a similar career change and need some reassurance and more to the point, might try to do it alone.

By Mitch Lavender


I knew the way and the path was familiar even though this was a new pilgrimage.

Corporations are treacherous catacombs, filled with dead-ends and devastating fates for the unwary.  Eighteen years, I have navigated these passages but too late, I realized I took a wrong turn.  All around me, peers and superiors told me otherwise and that the path was true, but I knew otherwise.  I knew, but it was too late.

I made a career misstep.  I accepted a path that lead to this inevitable conclusion – I was going to be terminated from my job and that was entirely on me. It took two years for this to manifest and when it did, I had a choice to make – do I wait for the final email to meet with HR one sleepy morning in the near future or do I proactively seek employment while the proverbial ax hovered over my head?

Changing jobs might seem like a small bump in the road for some, but I worked for a key technology company; one that shaped the future of how people looked at the world and would continue to do so throughout my lifetime and probably beyond that.  I wanted to be a part of that, however small my part might be. Also of consideration, I was 49 years old and I knew there was some stigma of hiring someone 50+. We have more health issues. We usually don’t want to travel, should the job require it. We don’t want to work overtime unless it’s unavoidable. We want more salary for our experience. In truth, all of those things applied to me though I was willing to compromise where I could (read: “If I had to.”)

So I updated my resume and started going to job interviews. I tried to do this on my own and that I thought I was strong in doing so was my weakness.  I thought it would be a show of strength to shoulder this load alone. As I tried, I heard the bones in my back cracking under the strain.  My footing faltered and I staggered like a drunk, overwhelmed by my circumstances.

What I failed to consider was that others are affected by this decision and they deserve input and consideration.  More than that, I needed help. I couldn’t do this alone and that’s exactly what I said, finally.

“I can’t keep doing this.”

My hands were limp at my sides as I stood there, feeling like I might have a tear roll down my cheek if I didn’t fight it back.  I fought it back.

“Can’t keep doing what?” Lynn asked, putting down her book.

My dear wife might think I am giving up on our marriage; something laughable to me, but she was bright and such an open-ended comment as mine would certainly light-up her imagination, fueled by potential insecurities.

“Work.  I have to find something else.”

“You mean, find another position within the company?”

I wish it was so, but no.  Not within the company.  Over the last year, I had kept close tabs on postings within the company, and while there were many opportunities, none were in our area and I wasn’t willing to relocate.

“No.  I mean leaving the company,” I said, feeling the weight of the words as I said them aloud.  “I mean starting over somewhere else.  Taking a step or two back, so we can take big steps forward in the future.  Steps I can’t take where I am today.”

We talked, my wife and me.  We discussed the options and weighed the pros and cons, the lifestyle changes we needed to make.  We did this together and sometimes she cried and yes, sometimes, I cried.  Ultimately, we made a decision.  It was our decision and we would face the challenges together.  Then, we made love.

Over the weeks and months, I interviewed with several prospects and finally decided on one, with the understanding that I wanted to finish my project at my current employer and also stay long enough to get my earned stock awards.  They agreed.

As the weeks followed, my lack of confidence became evident and I needed to check with my wife to insure we were of the same mind.  Though we were facing an uncertain future, I knew we were strong together.

“It’s easy to go dark,” she said as we got into bed one night.

In two days, I start my new job.  I know this is what she is referring to but I don’t get the full meaning.  She took my face in her hands and said these words:

“It is easier to extinguish the light within your soul than to illuminate the darkness around you.  You have chosen to shine.”

I know, in the bigger picture, my role is of little consequence, regardless of the company I work for or the things do.  I know big things will be accomplished without me, and perhaps I may yet be a part of some big things in my future career.  What matters most is that my wife will be there with me, through it all.

Without her, I could not do a tenth of what I have accomplished.  She is a pillar. A rock.  A partner. A lover whom I adore. With her at my side, I can do great things.  I feel as though I can build empires or crash them to the ground.  With that kind of support, I can certainly start a new job.


Why Kemet is Awesome

Kemet by Matagot is my favorite area control board game and it’s one of my favorite games, ever.  Over multiple plays, I’ve come to really appreciate (yes, that’s the right word. APPRECIATE!) the game’s mechanics and design.

Is Kemet a game you, too, will APPRECIATE?  I don’t know, but let me run down the reasons why I like it and then you can decide if those things appeal to you or not.  First though, if you don’t know what Kemet is, we’ll start with the vendor’s description.

Vendor’s Description (yawn)

In Kemet, players each deploy the troops of an Egyptian tribe and use the mystical powers of the gods of ancient Egypt – along with their powerful armies – to score points in glorious battles or through invasion of rich territories. A game is typically played to 8 or 10 victory points, which may be accrued through winning attacks, controlling temples, controlling fully-developed pyramids, sacrificing to the gods, and wielding particular magical powers.

The conquest of the land of Kemet takes place over two phases: Day and Night. During the day, choose an action amongst the nine possible choices provided by your player mat and perform it immediately. Once every player has taken five actions, night falls, with players gathering Prayer Points from their temples, drawing Divine Intervention cards, and determining the turn order before the start of the new day.

As the game progresses, they can use Prayer Points to acquire power tiles. Some of these enroll magical creatures and have them join their troops. In addition to intimidating enemies, these creatures provide special powers!

Detailed miniature components represent the combat units and the supernatural creatures that are summoned to enhance them. Combat is resolved through cards chosen from a diminishing six-card hand and enhanced by bonuses.

My 12 Reasons Why I Think Kemet is Awesome

  1. All players start out equal. Same number of troops, powers on the pyramids (for buying power tiles), and same amount of prayer points (money). Even the locations of the player’s cities are equidistant from other players most of the time. That sounds generic and boring but it changes because of reason number 2.
  2. The Power Tiles players can acquire are remarkable and most are very interesting. They could be as vanilla as to grant you a single permanent victory point or they could provide you with a huge scorpion that moves with your troops on the battlefield, adding to their strength, damage, and movement. And there is everything in-between and more extreme, too. What’s most interesting to me is that often, there is only one of a certain power tile so once a player buys it, he/she alone has that ability.
  3. Power tiles can complement each other. Red Power Tiles are mostly aggressive, empowering attacks.  Blue Power Tiles favor defensive and protective actions. White (ahem!) Tiles (yeah, I think it’s unwise to refer to them as Power Tiles for this color) enable “Command Actions” that generally increase production, reduce costs of doing things, or give you bonuses when certain actions are performed.  The Ta-Seti expansion adds Black (ahem!) Tiles that add even more variety to the “Command Actions” and add my favorite monster in the game, the Devourer, a weird beast that moves with the troop and makes them immune to any damage.  If they destroy two enemy units and win the battle, they get an extra permanent victory point. Brutal.
  4. There are two types of victory points you can have in the game – permanent and temporary. Permanent are points that you can’t lose, as the name implies. Temporary points are points you hold as long as you maintain a certain position, such as controlling a temple on the board.  As soon as someone rolls in and chases you off the temple, it goes uncontrolled or more likely, controlled by the victor.  Of course, you can take it back. I like that the game has this built-in encouragement to draw players out to these various locales on the board and to fight for them.
  5. The main way of scoring permanent victory points in the game is to attack another player’s troops and win, having at least one survivor. This scores you a permanent victory point. If you are attacked and successfully defend, you don’t get a victory point. The game is built around the player’s attacking each other, repeatedly and often. If you aren’t into confrontational games – probably can just stop reading here.
  6. Combat is conducted through card selection. Each player has exactly the same variety of combat cards in their hand. Some have high attack but low damage and defense. Others favor defense, and there are some that are balanced. When entering combat, both players (and there are always only 2 players in each combat) select a card from their hand to play and another to discard. Then the cards are flipped over simultaneously and combat is tallied. It’s simple, but the played and discarded card go into a pile and won’t be available to that player for the next combat. Only once all the combat cards are in the discard deck can the player pick them all up again. This makes the card you play and maybe even more importantly, the card you discard, impactful on future battles.
  7. If a player can control 2 temples on the board at the end of a day phase, they get a permanent victory point, in addition to the temporary VP’s they get for occupying the temples. This prevents players from sitting back and building up – you have to go after that guy before he just builds up so many points you can’t prevent a win.
  8. The Divine Intervention (DI) cards are the one element of randomness in the game. These might offer an advantage in combat or perhaps more prayer points when played. They vary and do indeed add a random component to an otherwise entirely strategic game but they do not imbalance the game in any way. They aren’t powerful enough to do that, but played at the right time can be meaningful.
  9. The miniatures. They are fantastic and detailed, especially the monsters. Even the troops for each faction are unique. The pyramids in the game are reimagined D4 and utilized brilliantly to indicate the power level (1-4) a player possesses so as to buy a tile of that same color and level. The board is tasteful and well delineated. All the components are top quality.
  10. Kemet plays at all players counts, from 2-5, thanks to the two-sided map and simple rules that exclude some regions. While Kemet plays fine at lower player counts, it excels at 4 or 5 players. “The more there is to kill, the better the killin’,” said some psychopath, somewhere. He was just out of his skull nuts but he was right when it comes to Kemet.
  11. The Ta-Seti expansion adds the black pyramid and a fourth set of power tiles for players to choose to buy. It also adds a few new Divine Intervention cards and Combat cards, which integrate seamlessly into the base game. There is a new method of determining the player order that I find cumbersome and easily omitted. Finally, there is The Path to Ta-Seti which is a separate board in which you move your priests along from location to location when doing a move action in the base game. They advanced along the path and you can recall them at any point in their journey, collecting the object or skill token of the location they occupied. If the priests make it all the way to the end of the track without you recalling them, to Ta-Seti, they become equivalent to a monster that then joins your troops on the board, empowering them in battles. The Ta-Seti expansion is NOT required to enjoy Kemet but if you do enjoy Kemet, you will probably want to pick it up at some time.
  12. Matagot also makes a game called Cyclades, based around Greek legends and it features great miniatures of monsters like Medusa or The Kraken. There is the C3K: Creatures Crossover for Cyclades/Kemet that allows the monsters from Cyclades to be used in Kemet via power tiles, and the monsters in Kemet to be used in Cyclades as well. I do not own this but I think it’s infinitely cool that it exists.

So, that’s it. I could elaborate in detail on all of these points but really, why? My goal was to give you an insider, slanted overview of the game and what resonated with me. That doesn’t mean it will resonate with you and that’s perfectly fine. If Kemet does seem to be your thing, maybe I’ll see you at the table and as always, I’m interested to hear your opinions

Red-Blooded Redneck (short story)

This story originally appeared in, Best of Writing4All 2010.

Stereotypes are funny to me.  For example, I live in Texas and have all my life.  Immediately, stereotypes for Texan come to mind.  Programmed ideals of a cowboy hat-wearing, gun-toting, oil-well drillin’, spur-janglin’ fellow, riding the range, herding cattle and doing sing-alongs around the campfire like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or some other archetypical cowboy are envisioned.

I do not own a pair of cowboy boots or a cowboy hat.  Jeans, polo shirt and loafers are common attire for me.  I do not ride a horse on the range.  I drive a Nissan Altima in rush hour traffic every day.  I don’t own a gun or oil wells.  I live in a suburb.  I work in an office building.  I shop at regular stores like almost everyone else who lives in Texas, but there are some exceptions.  The few.  The proud.  The Redneck. Continue reading

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (flash fiction)

This story first appeared in It Didn’t Happen This way – Untrue Stories, Volume One in 2012.

Hello Jeff,

As you may have heard, I recently came into quite a fortune.  Someone has to win the lottery and despite the odds, it was me.  It wasn’t because I deserved it.  I certainly didn’t earn it. But I find myself now with 133 million dollars and must decide how to utilize it.  I certainly have dreams and aspirations; business opportunities to invest in abound.  Still, I must consider the life traveled that got me to this place and in so doing, remember those who gave me a chance.

There was a time in my career, several years ago, where I had burned a few bridges and was left remorseful for my mistakes but still accountable for them.  It was a crossroads where you, as my manager, could have terminated me and rightly so.  You didn’t.  You gave me an opportunity to turn things around and right the wrongs.  I heard you took some heat for it.  Simply, you saw something in me that was salvageable and believed in my abilities.  I don’t know if I ever expressed how much that meant to me but I have never forgotten it.

Simply, thank you.  I dare say that I might have started on a long, downward spiral had it not been for your giving spirit and faith in me.

Enclosed is a check for 1.23 million dollars.  This should leave you with one million dollars after gift taxes have been paid.  I know a million dollars is not a lot these days, but with your own savings, I hope this gives you enough to pursue your dream, whatever that may be.

I wish you and your family all the happiness and success in the world.  If there is anything I can do, anything at all, please do not hesitate to let my assistant know.  I will be in town next month and if we can work out schedules, I would love to have dinner with you.


Steven Lasroth

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Don’t Kill the Dog (for authors)

There are places that authors fear to tread and rightly so.  Some things are taboo and off limits, even in the fictionalized place where we create our stories and taking a certain plot twist can completely lose a reader or worse, make them angry.

I have a tendency to write dark fiction and that is thin ice to tread.  It’s not hard to make a wrong move.  It takes scruples and sense of self to avoid it because when weaving a story (i.e., pantsing), it has a life of its own; taking a direction that almost seems to be beyond the author’s control.  The story is completely in the author’s control of course, but it can sometimes feel like it has its own personae and is making choices for itself, such as having your antihero become a predator on the weak, vulnerable or trusting.  Who would like Batman if he was a rapist or child molester?   Rapists and Child molesters, that’s who, and no one else.

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Breathe – a short story

This story was originally published in 2012, in Red Fez issue 49.  It also appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One.  It’s based on a writing prompt from an episode of the Writing Excuses podcast – Begin a story with the line: She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

I hope you like it.


She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.  It’s not like boarding a plane is difficult and if ordinary people do it every day, so could Claire.


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The Whole Does Not Equal the Sum – a writing exercise

A writing Exercise from Writing Excuses episode 4.24 podcast

Concepts to use in the story: Accountant for a church, Contacts that decrease your vision, and brain implants

Exercise: Develop character(s) and conflicts using the three concepts above.  It can’t be silly.

The Whole Does Not Equal the Sum 

by Mitch Lavender

Better living through technology – A mantra that is repeated to the point that it is not even thought about.  No one considers what it means or if they believe it.  They certainly do not question it.  It was the very heart of the doctrine of The Church of π.

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Worth Writing About – a short story

Worth Writing About (abridged version)
By Mitch Lavender

How can I describe what it is like?

Imagine putting a plastic bag over your head and binding it closed around your neck. Then, punch a pinhole in the bag where your mouth is and try to breathe. Try to do that for two weeks straight, with a lump of stew you ate days ago sitting in your stomach. With sub-zero wind constantly buffeting you; so cold, you don’t dare expose naked flesh to it for fear of extreme frostbite. Wind so loud, you can barely hear what a person is saying, even if they stand right next to you and shout in your ear. If you can imagine this, then multiply that by ten and you will get an idea of what it is like at Base Camp 4 of Mount Everest.

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As I highlighted the paragraph of my beloved story, I imagined placing my hand on the chopping block, fingers splayed.  I raised the cleaverLet it begin.  I brought the cleaver down swiftly on my pinkie finger.  Chop.  Delete.

 My carefully crafted paragraph erased, I cleaned up the extra line and read through the piece again.  Holding up my hand, I saw blood spurting with every heartbeat.   Now the piece is imbalanced, as the following paragraph built upon the one I had deleted.  It’s got to go as well.  Chop.  Delete.  Blood spurted from both hands.

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I Observed – a short story


I Observed
By Mitch Lavender

BUSINESS-CARDS-3I took the card from him and shoved it in my pocket without looking at it.   At an event like this, people handed out business cards like they were throwing confetti.  I’m nobody to these people but they don’t know that.  Because I’m so disinterested, they assume that I’m important.  That’s my bad.  They used to call it socializing.  Now, it’s networking.  Now, it’s opportunity.  Now, it’s as good as it gets.

His name was Dale Staire.  Something in the way the incandescent light reflected off his name tag made me think of the EKG machine flat-lining in my father’s hospital room when I was twelve.  I decided to look him in the eye.  It was twenty minutes later that I broke free from the conversation with Dale Staire. It turns out Dale was a makeup artist (or the way he would say it, ‘artiste.’)   I broke away by dominating the conversation with things I knew from the research I have documented.  Things so horrible, Dale Staire was too shocked to respond.  He could hardly wait to leave my company.
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The Depths–A short story by Mitch Lavender

Darren was the first to wake. Duct-taped together with the two other unconscious men, he groggily struggled against the restraints. His angry, dilated pupils wandered up and tried to focus on me.

“This won’t stop me,” was all he said. Then his head fell back to his chest.

Was he right? Maybe none of them would stop and what I’d done wouldn’t make any difference. Maybe Darren was full of it. Maybe I didn’t care anymore. I was reminded of Josh and how things ended up for him. It wasn’t a comforting thought.

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My Top 5 Board Games That Feature Asshat Backstabbery

Asshat Backstabbery. Two words that are universally understood despite the fact that they do not exist in any legitimate dictionary, anywhere. I’m listing five board games that feature deception and cutthroat strategy as a key way of getting a leg up (or a knee on the throat) of your opponents. These are games where being mean and pitiless are expected but more than that, you can benefit from capitalizing on an opponent’s weakness. Lifelong friendships are ruined, families divided, and marriages crumble.

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