When Doug Calls – CH 4 – The Day Doug Called

This is chapter four of an unpublished story I’m working on.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.

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Let me back up and fill you in because, you know, you don’t know how I wound up in Toledo, do you?

On the day Doug called and told me to stay out of the dumpster in Toledo, which I fell into two days later, I woke up.  Since it was around one in the afternoon, I ate some Fruit Loops on toast – a proper brunch if brunch was ordered by an eight-year-old.  Then, I put on pants (very important) and went over to Doug’s to play Scythe. Scythe is this cool board game with plastic miniatures of badass robots that roam a map of the countryside, fighting for resources.  Anyway, Doug had other plans and we didn’t play at all.

We wound up driving forty miles to Fort Worth, to the Spanish Meadows Apartments, which looked neither Spanish nor like a meadow.  In fact, it looked every bit like a dozen or so tan cinderblock buildings with brown roofs amidst a tarmac and mostly dirt landscape.  Picturesque, I think, is the word I would use if I didn’t know what picturesque meant.

Anyway, Doug knew a guy here he wanted to talk to.  We climbed the cracked, concrete stairs to the second-floor apartment and knocked firmly on the door of 41B.  The door swung inward and we were greeted by a man with uncombed hair, wearing a t-shirt with the slogan, “Sworn to fun, loyal to none,” in a gothic font. Classy. He urged us to enter and hurriedly closed the door and locked it.

Once inside, the stench of cat box caused a slight, involuntary gag reflex in the back of my throat but I fought the bile back down and began breathing through my mouth.  Then I looked around at the awful, dark brown carpet and saw the lines where something had been poured and faded the color to off-white.  I think it was ammonia or bleach. It made a circle in the living room area where a plaid recliner sat, facing an old Sony rear projection TV.  It was the kind of TV they haven’t made in over 20 years.

“Douglas Newborn!  Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you for coming!  Who is this?” 

He looked at me like I would look at a dung beetle sandwich.

Doug said, “He’s cool. He drove me over here.”

And there it was – I’m Doug’s chauffeur.

Doug said to the man, “You had something important to tell me?”

I’m not introduced.  After all, I’m only the driver. I’ll wait here by the door while you gentlemen have your important discussion.

The guy had more manners than I gave him credit for and he asked me to join Doug on the couch, outside the ring on the carpet, I noticed.  Still, we sat. The guy sat in the plaid chair in the middle of the room, hit the lever and kicked it back into a full reclining posture. I’d hate for him to not be comfortable in this almost toxic atmosphere we were invited into, er… Doug was invited into and I came along because… I don’t know why.

Doug sat on the couch, put his elbows on his knees and tented his fingertips. I’ve never seen Doug do this in his entire life.  Then, Doug says, “Start from wherever you like.  Please don’t leave anything out, even though Ed is here.”

Nice to be included.

The guy, fully reclined in the plaid chair, changed his gaze from Doug to the ceiling and then closed his eyes.  He took a deep breath and started talking.

“Have you ever been talking to someone and knew exactly what you wanted to say, but couldn’t seem to find the word?  The more you try to remember it, the more it seems just beyond your reach.  Hours later, the word suddenly comes to you but it’s too late.  That happen to you?”  

Doug and I nodded.

“That’s the alien brain parasite adjusting itself inside your skull, somewhere near the temporal lobe.”

The guy smiled, glancing at me and back to Doug.

“Now, I see the look on your faces and I know what you are thinking. ‘I don’t have an alien brain parasite,’ you will say. 

Let me ask you this:  How do you know?  Have you seen a CT scan or MRI of your head, recently?  No?  Yet you are sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you do not have an alien brain parasite residing in your cranium.”

The guy leaned the plaid recliner forward, looking at Doug, then to me, then back to Doug as he spoke.

“You see, once an alien brain parasite takes up residence, initially around the back of the head – in the area of the cerebellum and occipital lobe, it spreads its tentacles to the other areas of the brain.  Using a powerful neurotoxin it produces in a small sack that hangs below its pincher-jaws, it stimulates the part of the brain that controls skepticism.”

The guy put his elbows on his knees, his fingers templed, and said, “My point is, the surer you are that you do not have an alien brain parasite but have no solid evidence to support that conclusion, the more likely it is that you actually do have one.”

Doug didn’t move, he just took it all in.  I squirmed a bit though I’m sure it wasn’t noticeable.

The guy continued, “You aren’t alone, and I don’t mean that in the, me and my alien brain parasite, we go everywhere together kind of way, though that is kind of funny.  I mean there are a lot of people who are partnered. So… misery loves company?  I don’t know.  I thought you might find that, you know – comforting.”

I did not.  He continued.

“They look a lot like crabs if you were wondering, except they have jellyfish-like tentacles.  They have a mouth on the underside with multiple rows of wire-like teeth.  The shell is pretty soft when they are little but once they get inside someone and start eating their brain, they grow and the shell hardens. 

The thing is, they grow, even if they don’t eat brains.  I had one in an aquarium and I swear, it went from the size of a pinhead to the size of a deflated football in two months, and I never fed it anything. This thing was smart. I mean, he was like The Professor on Gilligan’s Island smart. I named him Jeff.  He broke the aquarium and ran off. Haven’t seen him since.

Anyway, I expect you are wondering how someone who has an alien brain parasite gets rid of it.”

“Wait!  Jeff is loose?  How long ago?  Could he still be in here?” I said, peering around the room.  Doug didn’t seem concerned.

The guy said, “Relax, friend. Jeff is long gone and probably found a host by now. By the way, ‘alien brain parasite’ is quite a mouthful, which is why I named him Jeff.  From here on, I’m just going to call them crabs, OK?  So once you have a crab, how do you get rid of it? It’s a logical question.”

Now, I found myself putting my elbows on my knees, tenting my fingers.

The guy continued, “There are several solutions.  Icepick to the temple or a bullet fired from a gun placed in your mouth but pointed up usually works.  And I do mean pointed up, towards the brain.  Not straight back, where you’ll blow out your medulla and spinal cord, but leave the crab.  I also heard of one guy who jumped head first into a wood chipper, but it has to be a really big wood chipper, and most people don’t have access to such a thing.”

He noticed the alarmed look on my face and perhaps, my jaw hanging open like I was the mask from the movie, Scream.

“How do you get rid of a brain crab and live?  Oh.  Well, you don’t.  No, there isn’t an operation you can have to remove it.  That does remind me of a story.  Look, I’ll tell you how I learned about brain crabs, OK?”

I Read a Book

Have you ever read a book that you so thoroughly enjoyed, you were sad when you finished it? You so loved it; you just wanted it to go on and on, endlessly.

I read a book like that. I was enthralled with it. Every day, I woke up and would immerse myself in it, and the story was so rich. The prose was immaculate. Sometimes, the story took an unexpected turn and challenged the protagonists. I dearly loved that book. All too soon, it ended, and I was unbelievably sad. So that book, as cherished and loved as it is, is done.

That book I so dearly loved was my marriage to Lynn. It was amazing and fulfilling, and it ended heartbreakingly when she died earlier this year.

I always thought I knew what depression was. I thought I had had times in my life where I was depressed. Then Lynn died, and I realized I was wrong, and I have never been depressed before. That was just sadness. This feeling, this – this is depression, and it is soul-crushing. Slowly, throughout seven months, I began to heal and regain my love of life. It was hard fought, but I learned to relish the memories rather than mourn the loss.

So now, I’m lonely. I have love to give and no one to give it to, and I know Lynn would want me to be happy. I have no book to read, and I haven’t opened the cover of another book for 32 years. Before Lynn, I had read some awful books. Crazy, even. I dreaded starting another book, but I had to.

I tried starting a couple of books but they weren’t right for me. Then I found Kathy. Or she found me, or whatever.

Turns out, Kathy is a wonderful book. Yes, of course, it was the cover that first attracted me, but the depth of the story sucked me in. Every page I turn, I’m enchanted by what I learn. It’s as if this book was written just for me. I adore the prose, and I can see myself settling in and losing myself between these beautiful pages for a long, long read with her. Yes, I love her.

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.

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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

Thank You, Murphy

Murphy was a Rat Terrier we got as a puppy. He died in October of 2017 when he was 10 years old.

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Thank you, Murphy.  Thanks for protecting the backyard from squirrels, birds, and neighbors doing things on the other side of the fence.  You would bark and protect us all.  Never once did a squirrel, bird, neighbor or delivery person harm us.  Thank you.

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This is Your Mind as a Writer. Any Questions?

It seemed innocent enough.   A few words on the page; what harm could it do?

A flash-fiction piece here, a poem there – it didn’t take much time.  Before long, I stepped up to doing short stories.  It was only one a week, at first.  Then I was doing it more.  I would lie to my family so I could sneak out and write.  They thought I was going to the store for bread, but I was at Starbucks with my fingers on the keyboard, typing furiously, or sitting in the car, scribbling in a Moleskine notebook.

person typing on typewriter

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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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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Changes

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.


Changes
By Mitch Lavender

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sincerely,

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.


 Breathe

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.

Breathe. 

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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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