Smart Zombies (short story)

Smart Zombies, I hate them.

Mind you, “smart” is only in reference to the rest of them.  Smart zombies can open doors and figure simple problems out.  The average zombie can’t even get out of a car if the door is closed.  It will just try to chew its way out, breaking teeth and bones in the process.  Still it won’t stop; broken fingers and no teeth, it will still keep trying.

Smart Zombies will call others; a raspy, horrible screech.  They will organize mass assaults on locked doors or barricades and stand in the back, ordering the hordes of others on to attack; zombie generals of the War on Humanity.

The siege has been going on for three days now, and we have retreated to floor eight of the Madison Heights Apartment Building.  Floor after floor as they kept coming, we lost ground, defending the stairwells until we couldn’t anymore. Then we would abandon and go up another floor. The undead were like water flooding a sinking ship, and we were fleeing up and up, until there was nowhere else to go.  There were only eight floors in the building.  We were making a last stand before retreating to the roof, and if we did that, I’d jump to my death before I became one of those things.  I swear I would.

As we nailed them down the stairwell, the bodies mounted up as they fell on top of each other in the confined space.  This would give us a few minutes of relief as the zombies behind cleared the bodies away to try a new assault.  They didn’t rest, and we have been doing this for forty-two hours straight.  My vision is blurry, and sometimes I pass out, only to be awoken to the horror we faced and to pull the trigger again and again and again.  Only head-shots would put one down.  Thank God, we had ammo.

A hand on my shoulder pulled me back.  “Relief, Corporal!” 

Major Jensen took my place at the top of the stairwell, and I staggered back, exhausted.  Jensen had been moving the civilians up each floor as we lost ground, and he hasn’t had any more sleep than the rest of us.  Still, I would take the relief.  Just for five minutes, then I would be back at it.  I closed my eyes.

When I awoke, it was daylight, punctuated by staccato gunshots.  While asleep, I had heard the same sounds, but I guess I was too tired to notice.  It was daylight and we had held them off through the night.

“Back ‘em up!” That was the yell from the Sergeant Major, and the urgency stirred me to fully awake.  This meant we were losing the floor and only had the roof left.  Since I was the only non-civilian who wasn’t engaged in combat, I hurried the frightened residents up the final flight of stairs to the roof.   I pushed a boy who couldn’t have been ten years old, “Hurry!”

He walked a few steps and said, “Why don’t you shot a car?  The alarm would distract them, wouldn’t it?”

Zombies hated loud noises like alarms, and when they went off, they attacked the source with a horrible vengeance.  It was a good idea.  It might distract them from the smart zombie’s orders.

 “Move, son!”  I shoved the boy along towards the stairs leading to the roof and maneuvered to a window inside one apartment.  Looking out, the streets were filled with the undead; packed with stinking, animated corpses that were intent on attacking our building.  The zombie general was out of sight but calling them on with his scream.  I aimed my M-16 and shot out the windshield of a PT Cruiser; nothing. It didn’t have an alarm.  I focused on an Infiniti G-37 and fired.  The alarm blared into life, and the zombies around it turned, refocused on this new target that was making so much noise.

I shot out the windshield of a Ford Explorer, and it also erupted to life with an alarm.  I did the same with a Mazda RX-7 and a Chevy Tahoe parked on the street, each blaring and attracting more attackers.

Then I saw the general emerge from the building cattycorner to ours.  He was wearing a blood-stained lab coat, but the way he walked with purpose drew my attention, despite the thousands of other zombies shambling around the crowded street below.  He jumped up on a car and started to scream again, pointing at our building – a siren to call the others to attack his target.  I’ve heard that scream for the last three days and I knew it well.  He’s the guy.

The ten-year old boy said, “Here, stop it here.  Stop it now.”

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

I looked at the gun he held – a sniper rifle, equipped with a scope.  Checking that it was loaded, I pulled it up and drew a bead on the general zombie’s forehead, using the windowsill to steady my shot.  I fired.  His screech silenced, and he fell backwards.  The hoardes turned their focus to the alarms and began attacking the cars.

“They are retreating!” said the Sergeant Major, shocked.  Then he fell backward and laughed out loud for a moment before he passed out from exhaustion.

The waters receded, and we took back the top four floors that day.  Outside, the streets swim with the undead, but we live… for now.

© 2011, Mitch Lavender

A Kiss of Thorns (short story)

This story was originally published in 2012 in an anthology, It Didn’t Happen This Way, Untrue Stories, Volume One. I’ve touched it up a little, but the story remains the same. I hope you like it.


“Why do you feed the damned bird meat?”

“She likes it, and don’t use foul language. I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.”

“Sorry I swore, Mom. I’m not seven years old, you know.” Even as I said the words, I felt like I was still a child, still living with my mother and still being told what to do.

Mom was always fawning over her stupid Macaw, Jezebel, teaching her to say something new or just carrying on about how she was such a pretty bird.

“Pretty bird!  Pretty bird!” Jezebel would mimic back in that creepy, ventriloquist voice that parrots have.  My skin crawled every time the bird spoke, its head cocked sideways with its eye on me, seemingly dead but still seeing me.  Watching.  I shivered.

“What happened to fruit?  The thing used to eat fruit!”

“She likes hamburger more.”

“Fucking freak show, if you ask me.” 

“Such language!  Go to your room!”

As I closed the door behind me, it was one of the many times I was grateful for my aged mother’s Alzheimer’s.  She wouldn’t remember that exchange ten minutes later.  As for Jezebel, she was like a volatile, feathered tape recorder that might repeat anything that was said and reignite otherwise dormant synapses, sparking the discussion anew.   Damned bird.

Even when I was a kid, my mother loved that bird more than me. “Jazzy Jez,” she would call her, referring to the way she would bob up and down on her perch when music played.  Birds like this form an attachment to one person and barely tolerate anyone else.  The bird hated me, and I reciprocated.   Mom would enter Jezebel in shows, often winning some prize for plumage or… whatever.  The ribbons are displayed proudly on the walls of her room.  There were no pictures of my father or me; rest his soul.

Mother’s Alzheimer’s had grown worse over the last couple of years, and with my mother’s advanced Alzheimer’s, she couldn’t live alone.  I insisted that she move into my house, along with Jezebel.  It was the right thing to do.  She needed supervision, and they wouldn’t let Mom keep Jezebel in a nursing home due to the strict rules about pets.  It would have killed her to lose the bird, so Mom moved into the guest room, and so did Jezebel.

Jezebel behaved differently after the Northwest Texas Macaw Foundation’s Bird Show two weeks ago.  I drove Mother there, her fussing over the bird the whole way.  The show was canceled; something about the virus everyone is talking about and public gatherings not being allowed, but not before Jezebel got into a fight with a mean-looking Cockatiel at the show.  Jezebel didn’t seem injured, but she acted weird afterward.  She wouldn’t speak and clawed angrily at the mirror in her cage.  Mother obsessed with getting her well, and a trip to the vet did nothing to make things better. That’s when Mom started feeding her hamburger.  Jazzy Jez calmed down then and seemed more like her old, capricious self after getting some McDonalds’.  She liked raw meat even more, and she started speaking again.

“Where’s the beef?” Mom taught her to say.

Now that they have shut down the schools and my workplace due to the virus, I’m stuck at home with both of them.  Most stores have closed, too. It’s hard to find an open gas station, and vegetables are in short supply.  Apparently,  the virus spread from Mexico, and since most vegetables for the Southern United States come from Mexico, tomatoes, lettuce, and other produce were rare if not completely unavailable.  Last week, Houston was quarantined entirely; no one allowed in or out.  That could happen here. I’ll have to stock up on whatever supplies I can find.  The newly enforced curfew said you had to be indoors before sunset. 

I left Mom alone with the damned bird, and the next morning, I went out looking for an open store.  They were all closed, and the roads were oddly absent of cars, but I stopped at a roadside stand selling Tyler Roses and bought a dozen for $5.  My father used to bring yellow roses home to Mom from time to time, a demonstration of how much he loved her. “Despite your craziness, I love you.” It always melted Mom’s heart, and whatever troubled her about the day seemed to fade for a bit.  I hoped it would have the same effect if I gave them to her.

“You been into town?” the kid at the stand asked.

“Not yet.  Hope I can get some food.”

“You’ve got a gun, right?”

“Sure,” I lied, getting back into my car with the flowers. “This is Texas.  Who doesn’t have a gun?”

“Shoot for the head. It’s the only thing that works.”

I peeled out and went to the nearby store.  I could pick up some hamburger and soda at the grocery store, but they didn’t have much else.  The shelves were picked over; ransacked, really.  The sign outside said, “No bread, milk, or produce.” Or much of anything else.  Several Armed National Guard were outside and they looked nervous.  One approached me and handed me a flyer that had ‘NOTICE” printed across the top.

“Have the riots quieted down?” I asked.  The guard didn’t look at me, but I noticed his knuckles whiten a little on his M-16.  I didn’t press him for conversation and continued out to my car.

“Go home, sir.  Lock the doors and stay there.”

I turned around and asked, “Is it really that bad?”

He glanced at me sideways, and the look in his eyes told me it was. “Got a gun?” he asked.

“No.”

“Find one.  Wait,” he said, upholstering his pistol and handing it to me, grip first. “This is the safety; leave it on until you need to fire it.  Use both hands and aim for the head.  It has twelve rounds.”

I gawked at the gun being handed to me. “Why are you doing this?”

“Take it!”

“Thank you,” I said, grabbing the grip and feeling the weight of the weapon. “I really don’t think this is necessary…”

But the guard had turned and was already walking away.  I don’t have a license to carry a gun, I thought.

I had collected flowers, meat, Cokes, and a gun—none of the things I set out to pick up when I left this morning.  Reading the notice I had been handed, all things we’ve heard over and over for the last few weeks now: Avoid crowds, beware of people or animals acting strange or violent, stay indoors at night, lock the door, and drink only boiled or bottled water.  And it had a new one – don’t try to leave the city.  It didn’t say quarantine, but that’s what it meant.  I better get home.

Pulling into the driveway, I carried the food and flowers into the house and locked the door behind me.  There was no one outside for as far as I could see.  Putting the supplies down, I went back to see how Mom was doing.  I didn’t tell her I was going out because she never remembered, anyway. 

I took the roses and knocked on the door to her room. “Mom, are you up?”

“Mom, are you up?” quipped the parrot voice inside.  I hate that bird.  Turning the handle, I pushed the door open.

The first thing I noticed was the dark brown stain around my mother’s still body.  The gashes torn into neck and face made her unrecognizable except for the nighty that I knew was hers.  Perched on her chest and ripping at the flesh was Jezebel, blood covering her brilliantly colored breast and face.

“Where’s the beef?” Jezebel said, spreading  her wings and then laughing, “hah hah hah hah!”

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

“Mom!” I screamed, but I knew she was dead and had been for a while.  The blood had dried into the carpet and turned brown.  This had happened sometime last night.  You just had to feed her hamburger, didn’t you, Mom?

Jezebel flapped her wings and flew towards me, bloody and rasping, “Play that funky music, white boy!” She cawed.

Instinctively I swung at the bird and slapped her down to the floor with the bunch of roses, but she came back at me as I stumbled out into the hall.  I held up the roses to cover my face, and the bird landed on the flowers, flapping wildly and crying, “Kiss! Kiss!” The thorns raked my cheek, and I swung wildly, slamming Jezebel into the wall with the roses.  I turn and ran.

As I turned the corner and ran through the living room, I heard Jezebel singing the theme to Golden Girls, one of Mom’s favorite shows.  She hopped around the corner and cocked an eye at me.

“Thank you for being a friend.  Traveled down the road and back again. Your heart is true. You’re a pal and a confidant.”

I rounded the counter into the kitchen.  Gun! The gun is in the car!  Jezebel spread her wings and flew up and over the counter, landing on the faucet over the sink.

“Who’s a pretty bird?” she cried happily.

I grabbed the two-pound package of hamburger and swung down, knocking her into the sink.  I had her trapped beneath the meat, and her wings beat wildly in the basin, but I continued to press down.  I heard bones cracking, but still she fought back with more strength than I would have imagined. Jamming down harder with both hands, her head moved to the garbage disposal drain, and I mashed her into it.

“Where’s the beef?” She cawed from inside of the drain.  “Son!  Help Me!  Help me!” she mimicked my mother’s last words, and I flipped the garbage disposal switch, and the blades powered to life, grinding the head off of the shuddering animal.

I held down firmly until Jezebel stopped twitching.  When I let go, I left the disposal running, grinding away at nothing.  The bird’s legs still stuck out of the drain at impossible angles, splayed by the package of hamburger.

Quarantine or not, I’m out of here! Running to the car, I pulled the pistol from the glove compartment and turned the safety off.  I had enough gas to get me out of town and maybe to Oklahoma.  Maybe things are better there.  I made it as far as the city limits, behind miles of other cars, also trying to leave.

The officer came around to my car and told me to turn around, but then he saw my face and pulled his gun.  “Infected!”  He shouted, and two other police ran over with guns drawn.

“Out of the car.  Out of the car!”

I complied, and they shoved me to the ground and bound my arms, taking the gun.

“How long ago did you get those injuries on your face?”

“These?  They are from some roses.  Just scratches.  An hour ago, maybe?”

Hoisting me up to my feet, they shoved me to a fenced-in area with a bunch of other people, also bound or handcuffed. 

“It’s just scratches from thorns! That’s all.  That’s all.”  My voice trailed off as they locked the gate and walked away.

“Thorns on roses!  Just thorns!” I shouted anew, but they weren’t listening.  Before nightfall, the pen was full of people they deemed ‘infected’, and they started executing us methodically.

© 2012, 2021 Mitch Lavender

The Sorrow (short story)

This piece is unpublished until now, and was originally written in 2012, using the “sticks” from The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan for the “First Sentence” and two non-sequiturs.  These are marked in bold.  I also did one stick for “The Last Straw” which is supposed to introduce a dramatic arc, but it said “the hole in his sock” and though I could have wedged that in somewhere, I already had a dramatic arc that I liked and I almost hated “hole in his sock.

I won’t sing the praises of such gimmicks to induce creativity, but on this occasion, I had nothing to write about and it gave me something to write about. I hope you like it. – ML


Gustav sat down in the middle of the road and began to cry.  It wasn’t an unusual thing for him to do, not if you knew Gustav.   “Emotional and poorly equipped for the stresses of secular challenges” was how his last employer described him.  While that might sound particularly harsh, what pained Gustav most was that it was true.  Mostly.

Girls cry and the world rallies around, consoling and empathizing about… whatever.  A man cries, and the world judges him.  He’s weak.  He can’t cope.  He’s a Susie Sissy-Pants.  So be it, Gustav sobbed.  He’s had happier times.

Seven months ago, we were drinking champagne and losing our shirts in Vegas.  Gustav wasn’t a big drinker, so by the time we cracked open the second bottle, he was blitzed.  The blackjack table wasn’t kind to us, but we didn’t care.  It was our honeymoon, and we were in love.  We left Vegas the next day before we were completely broke.

The plane was two hours late taking off.  Sitting on the tarmac and baking in the desert sun, Gustav’s hangover got the worst of him.  Even though we weren’t in flight, they wouldn’t let him get up and go to the restroom, so he had to throw up in one of those little puke bags they stick in the seatbacks.  Still, it was a happier time for him than now.

Photo by Marina Hinic on Pexels.com

Gustav misses me.  When he turns on American Idol, he gets this vacant look.  He always had a vacant look when watching American Idol.  You know, he hated that show, but he watched it because I liked it and he wanted to be with me.  Now that I’m gone, he still watches it, so that’s how I know he misses me.

I’ll never forget the panic in his face.  His unblinking eyes wide as the distance grew between us; hand reaching out, his mouth gaping as I fell. I saw my reflection on the glass building, falling in tandem as I slid down, down, down to the pavement.  I think the horror of that moment shorted out something in Gustav.  He was never the same after that, prone to emotional outbursts and, often, tears.

It’s been almost seven months now, and the pull of the light is strong.  Soon, I will have to leave Gustav.  It’s not like I can help him, but I think he knows I am near and somehow is comforted by it.  Maybe just a little.  Maybe I don’t help at all, and what he needs is to move on.  I could be holding him back.  I probably am.

Time and distance will grow and blur the memory of me and that fatal moment you tripped, falling forward, knocking me over the balcony.  You never could hold your champagne.

I am cold here, and the light is so warm.  It’s time to forge on without me, my dear Gustav.  Soon, but not yet. Very soon, but  I am not ready to leave you, my dear wonderful, clumsy husband. Now, get out of the road before you get run over.

© 2012, 2021 Mitch Lavender

The Guardian (short story)

This is a short story I wrote in 2011 that was first published in “Report,” an ezine. I polished it a little, but the story remains the same. I always intended to expand on it and never did. I hope you like it.


Photo by Aidan Roof on Pexels.com

The rapping at the closet door started just after midnight, as it always did.  Who – no, not who – what could it be, inside the closet?

Erika had been repeating the steps of jumping out of bed, grabbing a crayon from the nightstand, and running to the door to redraw the strange symbols around the door’s frame before they faded entirely. Then, quietly running back to the bed, pulling the covers up to eyes, and watching the door with fear.  She did this every seven minutes, and each time, she was careful not to disturb the intricate design she had laid out so carefully on the wooden floor.  It was made of lines of carefully poured, pure white sand, and she knew that stepping on it or severing one of the lines might unseal the lock. 

Rap, rap, rap. 

Not like someone beating on the door and not even a full, adult knock.  It was just the whisper of a knock, barely audible but still there, then a pause of maybe twenty seconds, then coming again.  Patient.  Determined. Firm.

The magical cryptograms on the floor and door frame were the only things that kept – whatever – from entering her room.

Six minutes more passed of this, and she needed to decide on a new crayon color to use next.  The Aquamarine worked well, but now just a nub.  She could use Salmon or Bittersweet Orange, but she was afraid.  She had never used colors in the red spectrum to lock the door, and they might not be effective. 

Pulling a light blue one from the box of 64 colors, she read the name written on the side:  Blizzard Blue – it was close to Aquamarine, but lighter and lighter colors seemed to work best.  The Robin Egg Blue was great, sealing the door over eleven minutes at a time, but she had used it up the other night.  Sky Blue was another good one, almost nine minutes for it.  It might have lasted longer, but Erika was afraid to test it.  When the seals started to fade, she couldn’t let them disappear entirely, or the lock would fail.  The lock on the floor was the last defense, and she would have to stand in the center of it to be protected.

She got out of bed after seven minutes,  tip-toed over the sand pattern on the floor, and began retracing the symbols on the door frame again.  It was 6:53 AM, according to her clock, and sunrise was just minutes away.  Then, she could sleep.

The Rapture had taken Mommy and Daddy, and she was alone.  Now, the demons prowled the night hours, and it wasn’t safe after dusk.  Her closet was the only entrance to this hemisphere, but she didn’t know that.  She only knew she was keeping something inside from getting out, and in the daytime, there was nothing to worry about.  She could open her closet and even play in it if she wanted.

She had already decided she would use violet next, that upcoming night, and see how that works.  After the sun was up and she slept, she played with Barbies and went out to swing.  She collected the manna that fell from the sky, and while it was bland, she could dip it in honey or pour sugar on it, and it tasted better.  When the sun started to set, she took her bath and dressed for bed, violet crayon clutched tightly in her hand.

Erika’s father had read the bible to her before he was taken up.  She knew the story of Job in the bible and how God allowed him to be tested by the Devil so that Job may demonstrate his faith.  He also read to her of Lot and his family in Sodom and Gomorra.  If only one faithful person was present, the destitute cities might be spared. 

At only nine years old and still fancying Barbies, she didn’t know how she knew to make the lock or that she was The Guardian of Mankind still on earth.  She did not know this was her test.  Wherever she moved, whatever room she was in; that was where the portal would be, and she must guard it, or all of mankind would be forsaken.  This was her tribulation; this was her cross to bear.  She didn’t understand, but she had yet to curse God, so the rapping at the door would continue again tonight.

© 2011, 2021 Mitch Lavender

When Doug Calls – Ch 5 – Life and Times of a Brain Crab

This is chapter five of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

The guy leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and continued, “As I told you earlier, I’m a video technician at Boiler Hospital in Dallas.  My job is to digitally record the operations that take place in the hospital.  They are used as teaching aids or as evidence if a malpractice lawsuit comes up.  Of course, this evidence is only disclosed if the video shows the operation was performed competently.  If any asshattery was caught on video, it is destroyed.  Some of my best footage has been lost this way. 

So about ten months ago, I was recording the video of an operation to remove a brain tumor. It’s a kid who looks like he’s maybe 15 years old.  Sometimes, brain surgery is laparoscopic but not this time.  They sawed all the way around his head – so the top would come off.

And when the top did come off, the tumor wasn’t a tumor at all.  It was a very pissed-off brain crab.  Everyone in the surgery room died horribly.  Me?  I wasn’t in the room.  Hell no.  I was in the video control room, on a different floor.  The cameras are all operated remotely.  This keeps me from possibly contaminating something or getting in the way of the surgeons.

Once all the screams and chaos subsided, I panned the cameras around the room, looking for the crab.  I saw it hop the length of the room so it could be anywhere.  By the way, the inside of the kid’s head was almost completely empty.  The crab had eaten most of the kid’s brain.

Before the operation, I took a handheld cam and shot a few minutes of video with the parents and kid.  They wanted it, you know.  The kid was functioning normally – talking and moving around normally.  He even told me a joke.

Did you hear about the crab that went to the seafood disco? He pulled a muscle.

I didn’t say it was a good joke but in that 20/20 hindsight sort of way, it’s really funny, now.  The brain crab was making an inside joke.  What I do wonder is, if the brain crab was in control – and it had to be because the kid had almost no brain left – why didn’t it try to stop the operation?  The only thing I can think of is – I guess it wanted out.  Do you think he wanted to kill everyone in the operating room?  A psychopathic, serial killer, brain crab – who would have seen that coming?  Or maybe after the boy’s brain was gone, it was still hungry and this was the only way to get out to get more brains?  Who knows?

So anyway, the hospital went into emergency lockdown.  The brain crab destroyed the lights and two of the three cameras that were in the room.  The camera that remained was recessed in the ceiling and had a fisheye lens.  It didn’t look like a camera – more like a light that wasn’t turned on and I guess that why the crab left it.  Still, with no lights in the room, it was completely dark and I couldn’t see anything, though I could hear it scuttling around and what sounded like someone chewing wet food. 

When two policemen arrived, they opened the door to the operating room with big flashlights on and guns drawn.  The flashlight beams danced around the room and settled on a nurse in scrubs, standing among the bodies of other nurses and doctors.  She had the mask and protective eyewear on. Her gloved hands and outfit were bloodied but it was a surgery room, so that’s not unusual.

“Freeze!” The police yelled, both training their shaky lights on her and probably their guns, too.

The nurse didn’t move, except her head.  She looked up and said, “It’s on the ceiling!”

The flashlights swung upwards and around the room, and then there was pandemonium—the sound of rapid movement, grunts, and gunfire. Something was knocked over and clattered across the floor.  The flashlight beams swung erratically around the room and, within a few seconds, lay on the floor – pointing towards the closed door.  The two policemen were dead.

The nurse walked slowly to the door, illuminated by the crossed flashlights, and just before she opened it to let light spill in from the outside hallway, you could see the back of her head and the brain crab, clamped to her neck, manipulating her like a puppet.

I switched to viewing the security camera in the hallway, following her out of the room and past people, pressed against walls, or standing in doorways looking out.  As she passed, thin, translucent tentacles shot from her open mouth, striking each person and then quickly retracting.  Each victim reacted as if they were stung by a bee but promptly fell to the ground, motionless.

Finally, a doctor pulled a gun from a holster under his scrubs and fired, blowing the crab on the back of the nurse’s neck to bits.  The nurse fell to the ground, and the doctor who was packing saved countless lives that day.  He was later arrested for carrying a concealed weapon in a hospital.”

The guy casually stopped talking to take a sip from his coffee cup.

Doug was transfixed.  I think he was buying it, but this sounded fake to me, and I had to say something, so I did. 

“Why wasn’t this on the news?”

The guy lowered the coffee cup and said, “Shortly after this incident, two black helicopters landed on the helipads on the hospital roof, and four men in black suits came out.  They took the video I recorded and the bodies in the operating room.  In fact, they took all the videos recorded anywhere in the hospital, parking lot, or from surrounding businesses near the hospital.

They also took everyone on the second floor away to be inspected.  Black vans pulled up, and men in hazmat suits took them away.  I was on a different floor, so they didn’t take me.”

The guy leaned back in the plaid chair back again, not relaxed but still reclined.

He said, “The thing is – no one said, don’t talk about it.  I mean, they took all the video and the bodies and stuff but didn’t say to keep quiet.  So, people called news shows and were interviewed. Each story differed a little from the others, and most people only had seen a small part of what happened. They haven’t watched everything unfold via video cameras as I did.   Most of what they said involved the Men in Black from the helicopters and vans more than anything supernatural or… crabby, and this is why you didn’t hear about it on the news – because most of it wasn’t about crabs, and none of the crabby stuff was credible.

I didn’t want to get involved in the circus, so I kept quiet, sort of.  Instead, I posted it online.  Disinformation.org picked it up and ran with it, but it’s all the conspiracy theorists and nut-jobs that keyed in on it, forming their theories and extrapolating the facts to a great extent.”

The guy seemed to notice my nano-reaction to his comments and looked directly at me, over my tented fingertips.

“See?  You do remember the news stories about the black helicopters at the hospital, don’t you?”

The guy put his hands behind his head, fully reclined in his chair, but he kept talking.

“There’s a lot more to tell, but this is usually enough.  Either you will acknowledge the brain crabs, or you won’t.  So let’s make it easy. If you don’t believe me, leave.  I’ve got the check.  If you do believe me, then stay, and I’ll give you what you paid for.”

Check? We waited. Apparently. Doug said nothing.

“OK.  My name is Benson Doyd.  That’s my real name.  No convictions. I’ll tell you why I’m telling you anything.”

Good to know.  Boyd pulled the recliner forward, put his head in his hands, and rubbed them over his face as he looked up.

“So here it is – it’s because of my dog.

Buddy, my dog – he was a sensitive animal.  I don’t mean that he is a wuss or anything, but he is a sensitive dog and can tell when I’m sad or upset. He’s a Rat Terrier, and they are thoughtful, independent sages.

The thing about Buddy is he’s a good judge of character, but he gives everyone a chance.  He’s a thinker, wise in a canine sort of way.  Yes, he drinks from the toilet, but he knows when someone has an alien brain crab up in their noggin, steering the ship, you know?  He knows, and he won’t have anything to do with them.  You might remember – he didn’t like you at all, Doug.

That’s when I asked you to leave, said I didn’t feel right – I would call you later.  And didn’t.  Of course, I wasn’t going to have sex with you.  You have crabs!”

That made me do a double-take.  It was one of those, looking back and forth between Doug and the guy over and over until I blurted out, “What?!  No!” Like Homer Simpson, seeing the last donut eaten.  Neither Doug nor the guy seemed phased by my cartoonish reaction.

“I know,” Benson said, glancing up at me but down at the floor, quickly. “How do I know Buddy didn’t have a brain crab too?  I’ve had other experiences outside of that day at the hospital.  I don’t think the crabs like dogs or cats.  Not sure about monkeys or chimpanzees – but they prefer people.”

He looked solemnly at Doug.  “Don’t look so sad.  You knew it couldn’t work out.  Me, a big city dork with commitment issues and you, a scaly brain-eating crab. Star-crossed from the beginning. You are from another dimension, after all.”

My Homer Simpson impression of, “Ahhhhhhhh!” continued with little notice.  Boyd, however, kept talking.

“Where was I?  Oh, yes.  You’re from another dimension.  I found your portal – the one in the back of the Starbuck’s on McArthur Blvd.  The one behind the bags of espresso beans. I shut it down.  I have no idea why a double-tall caramel latte can sever the connection, but it did.  If coffee defeats you, it’s a real bummer that you opened the portal in a coffee shop.  Anyway, that portal is gone, but I bet you have others, eh?

I also stomped four of your little cousins who had just popped through. They squish easily when they are small.  I’m guessing everyone who works at that Starbucks is crabbed.  I got out.  That was this morning, right before I came home, to meet your crabby self.

I’m not saying you have a brain crab, Doug.  I think the crab has fully taken over, eaten the entire brain, and everything that made you Doug is gone forever.  I think you are all crab, looking at me with little crabby eyes, thinking little crabby thoughts, right now.

I have dominated the conversation, haven’t I? Why don’t you talk for a while?”

Drool plopped quietly onto the table as my mouth hung open, witnessing this exchange. Doug took a deep breath and then spoke.

—–

When Doug Calls – CH 3 – Anti-Popular

This is chapter three of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

CH 3 – Anti-Popular

Another thing I’ll tell you about Doug that’s less amazing but still freaky is that he loves the crap out of the Soundtrack to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a glam-rock version of Beatles music from a subpar, 70’s movie starring the talented but miscast Bee Gees.   Before Doug died, he only listened to Kiss, AC/DC, and Alice Cooper (and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that), but after TMI, it was the Sgt. Pepper’s Soundtrack, every time, all of the time, on an endless loop.  I don’t know why, it just was.

People began to think Doug was, you know, weird. I think it was the Sgt. Pepper’s Soundtrack that did him in, in the public’s opinion, I mean.  Truth be told, Doug was strange before TMI, like me.

Take a look back to before TMI, and before people were interested in him – Doug had a tough go of things.  I knew Doug in high school.  He wasn’t a popular kid, but neither was I, so… so what?  Right?  So what. Yeah. Anyway, we would walk home from school together because our houses were on the same block, not because bullies on ten-speeds would beat us up if they caught us alone.  Neither of us had girlfriends, but we could have if we wanted to.  We weren’t athletes or on a team because sports are dumb.  We did play a lot of D&D and Xbox. My Drunken Ranger, Zekedt (pronounced with no silent letters, “Zekedt”), was level 17 and a force to be reckoned with. Zekedt had many girlfriends all over the Four Realms, so I had that action going on.

Even now, I’m 31 years old, and Doug and I still live on the same block, except that Doug is in an apartment over his parent’s garage, and I’m in an apartment behind my parent’s home so, you know, we’ve grown in that way.  Matured.

This dumpster, though.  This dumpster. Doug should have told me more about it.

I curled up into a fetal position as I fell, bracing for an impact as the blackness of the open dumpster raced up to meet me.  I don’t remember feeling the impact but do recall a loud, “KA-BONG!” noise and then nothing.

*******

When Doug Calls – CH 2 – Both Sides

This is chapter two of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

CH 2 – Both Sides

Once, Doug and I were in his garage apartment, and I put the bong down to ask him how he could tell the future.

“Dude, you know what’s going to happen before it happens.  How?  And do you have any Doritos?”

“I ate all the Nacho Cheese Doritos.  I think I might have Funyuns.”

“I hate Funyuns!”

Then we watched Cartoon Network.

Another time when I was a little less high, I asked him again.  Here is what he said:

“There once was this guy with a mental disorder that only allowed him to remember things he saw on the right side, but anything he might have seen on the left side, he was oblivious and couldn’t recall. 

He went to a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist said, ‘Close your eyes.  Imagine you are standing at the South end of Main Street, a street you know well.  Tell me all the shops on the right side and then tell me all the shops on the left side.’

The guy listed off the names of each shop on the right side, one after the other, but when it came to the left side, he couldn’t remember any of them.

Then the psychologist said, ‘Imagine you are standing at the other end of Main Street, the North end, facing back at the same rows of shops.  Now, tell me the shops on your right and then the shops on your left.’

The guy banged out the shops on the right side, what was the left side the first time, and couldn’t recall any of the shops on the left side, which was the side he previously remembered.”

“Well, that’s messed up.  Obviously, the guy has a memory of both sides of the street.  He just can’t access both sides of the memories at the same time.” I felt brilliant.

Doug leaned back, reached for the bong and lighter, and said, “I don’t know what happened to that guy, but the point is that, well, it’s like everyone has a mental disorder when it comes to seeing the whole picture, everything that’s around them.  Everyone except me.  I can see both sides of the street.”

“Yeah, man, but, like, how?” I eloquently asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably the whole thing when I became unalive.”
Unalive is the word Doug uses for his state of not actually having a heartbeat but still being like alive.  He doesn’t like the word “undead.” That’s for zombies and vampires, and he’s not either of those. I don’t think he is, anyway.

© 2020, Mitch Lavender

When Doug Calls – CH 1 – Dumpster Diving

This is an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

______________________________________________

CH 1 – Dumpster Diving

It’s 3:14 in the morning when my phone rings.  I wake, curse, fumble for my mobile, and raise it to my head.

 “Hello, Doug,” I mutter.

See, when my phone rings in the early morning hours, at a time all the normal people are asleep, I know it’s Doug. It’s always Doug, and getting these calls is just one of the many benefits I endure as Doug’s best friend.

“Do not get into a dumpster behind the Toledo Taco Bell on Miramar Street!” Doug paused and then added, “I mean it, Ed. Don’t do it, no matter what.”

“OK, Doug. I won’t.”

Being that I lived in Dallas, had never been to Toledo, didn’t even know anyone in Toledo, and while I love Taco Bell, I could not fathom dumpster-diving for stale nachos, I was pretty sure I could keep this promise.

It’s is not as unusual a phone call as it might seem.  Calls from Doug are always… peculiar.  One time, he called me and told me not to eat a live, poisonous snake, but if I do, be sure to swallow it tail first.  Another time he told me not to read any Russian books aloud.  I don’t read or understand Russian, but Doug wasn’t interested in that. 

You might ask why I put up with Doug’s insomniac-induced rants, and the answer is complicated. I suppose I should tell you a little bit about Doug Newborn to ease you into it.

 First and I think, foremost, you should know that Doug died.  He choked on a McRib Sandwich at McDonald’s and died.  Paramedics cleared the blockage from his throat and revived him, but he never had a heartbeat after that. No pulse.  No respiration. Because Doug’s blood pressure was 0/0, the Coroner declared him deceased, but Doug argued with him about it until he finally recanted, with the understanding that while Doug Newborn was not dead, he also was not alive in the sense that was recognized by medical science.  Doug chose to view that as a fault of medical science.  It certainly wasn’t his.

The second thing you should know about Doug Newborn is that, not long after The McRib Incident (TMRI) of 2013, Doug disappeared for 22 days.  He was last seen playing a Joust arcade game at 7-eleven, a block from his garage apartment, and then, on level nineteen with eight lives to spare, *poof*. He disappeared. Missing person flyers were posted, and the local news covered his disappearance.  Police had no leads.  Twenty-two days later, Doug’s back in the 7-eleven, wondering why his high score wasn’t on the Joust machine.  When the clerk told Doug he unplugged the machines every week to sweep behind them, thus wiping the high scores, Doug nearly went ape shit.  He insisted his score was easily 700,000, and he had been there the whole time.  Since no apparent kidnapping or wrongdoing was involved, the police dropped it.

So, two nights after Doug’s warning about the dumpster, I find myself running through the dark parking lot of Taco Bell on Miramar Street in Toledo, chased by a shadowy, bat-winged, dildo-shaped monstrosity with claws that hang down at the back of the nut sack and a shark-toothed dickhead, and I DO NOT jump into the dumpster behind the Taco Bell for cover. The thing caws at me from a black sky, a shrill version of the sound Pac-Man makes when caught by a ghost if he were screaming from hell.  Doug tells me about the dumpster, but he couldn’t tell me about shark-toothed, flying dildos? 

I leaped over the hood of a rusty Camaro like Bo Duke and bolted to the dumpster in the adjacent Wendy’s parking lot. The cawing Pac-Man-screaming-in-hell keeps my adrenalin up, and I leap into the Wendy’s dumpster and bury myself under the cardboard and… other stuff. 

I lay still, trying not to breathe hard, mostly because it smelled terrible but also because I was trying to hide.  Of course, Bat-Winged Dildo Thing saw me jump in the Wendy’s dumpster, so it was no surprise that my ninja-like moves had not thrown it off.  The lid on top of the dumpster swung open with violent squeal and clang. Six-inch talon claws closed around my leg and lifted me jerkily out of the dumpster, up and up with each massive wing flap.  I looked down and saw the black asphalt of the unlit parking lot reeling past me, and I saw Doug standing there, holding something small out in front of him, maybe a flashlight.

A bluish flash shot from the object Doug was holding, hitting Bat-Winged Dildo Thing, and its grasp on my leg released. I was falling, and I was going to die.  All that, “My life flashed before my eyes,” crap didn’t happen, but I didn’t die, either.  Anyway, I fell into the dumpster.  The dumpster behind the Taco Bell on Miramar Street.  In Toledo.  Remember the dumpster Doug said not to get into, no matter what?  That one.

Another thing about Doug is that he has premonitions that have never been wrong.  Some haven’t come true yet, but none that I know of have ever been proven to be false.  Many are queerly accurate. That’s also a thing to know about Doug.  Maybe I should have led with that?

© 2020, Mitch Lavender

GEEK AM I

As a card-carrying GEEK, it is my right… nay, it is my RESPONSIBILITY to complain about the most insignificant and trivial of details when it comes to movies, books, comics, video games, and particularly in my case, board games.

Look at the most passionate geeks out there and that’s what they do – criticize and complain and nit-pick.  I can only surmise that any geek worth his salt would do the same, right?

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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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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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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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I Observed – a short story

SHORT STORY LAUREL November

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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