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This is chapter four of an unpublished story I’m working on.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

———-

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?”

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

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Seventeen

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Episode Seventeen

 

I was always awkward but had learned to adapt, and by the time I was graduating high school, I was in the top of my class.

“The future rests on our strong and capable shoulders. It will be our generation that will herald in the new age. It will be our generation that will face and resolve the problems of our time.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes.

My speech is so much better. I had written and submitted a speech for this year’s graduation but Mr. Duncan, the principal thought it was “not in keeping with tradition.” I clutched a folded-up copy of the speech and sat quietly.

The audience was made up of the graduating class; a hundred or so students all in maroon caps and gowns, and their friends and their family, of course. My mother is present. Finally, the speech drew to a close.

“Congratulations to you, the class of 2001! The future is what we make of it!”

All of my classmates jumped to their feet. I looked at the response of those around and slowly got to my feet, too.

They all scream, “Hooray!” I just didn’t feel it. Along with the rest of the class, I took off my cap and threw it in the air. It was a unfulfilling event for me, but everyone around me seemed truly excited and caught up in the moment. Proud mothers were dabbing away their tears of joy with white handkerchiefs, proud fathers heartily shaking the hands of their newly emancipated sons. I finally just quit trying to fake it, and as my classmates were doing high-fives, I stepped away from the crowd, wanting to distance myself from them.

It startled me a little when there was a touch on the shoulder. It was my mother.

“I’m so proud of you,” she said with a sweet and reassuring smile. “Your father would have been, too.”

I smiled back, still clutching my speech.

We walked arm in arm toward the car and my mother was beaming with pride. I wasn’t sure what I had done to elicit such a swelling sense of satisfaction in her. There was nothing unique about my academic accomplishments. I had simply shown up, listened, and on test day, I regurgitated what I had heard. Nonetheless, I was glad to see her so happy. As we walked past a trash can at the edge of the parking lot, I tossed my speech into it.

“I know you’re going out with your friends to celebrate, but drive me home first. You can take the car.”

She tossed me the keys. More and more, I noticed that my Mother didn’t want to drive. That’s fine and I didn’t mind, but it was clear she wasn’t comfortable behind the wheel anymore. It was a long drive, almost an hour, and I wasn’t talkative.

“Something the matter, Bobby?” She asked. It had been over ten minutes where neither of us had said anything.

“Just thinking about what’s next.”

“Don’t you worry about that.” My mother’s face still showed distinct pride. “I’ve spoken to Philip Crenshaw, Jonah’s father. He’s agreed to give you an internship in the research department at Trust Media Group. The pay is not much to start, but Trust Media Group is a very big place, with subsidiary companies in lots of other things besides magazines and television. It will get you started. It’s the kind of company you can stick with your entire life, retire from. And they’ve got good benefits.”

They used to call this a grind. Now, it’s obligation. Now, it’s opportunity. Now, it’s life.

“Really,” I said without enthusiasm.

Trust Media Group was a huge media conglomerate, but I knew that Phillip Crenshaw worked for one of its smaller divisions, The Trusted Authority, a weekly tabloid newspaper that is on every supermarket checkout stand. The cover story was often something to do with aliens, subterranean humanoids living in the sewers who snatch babies or maybe just a slice of life from Paris Hilton’s routine. You know, stuff that is hard to believe. It was journalism at its most yellow .

My mother continued, “You’re father had always wanted you to have a good job… a white-collar job. He wanted you to achieve more than he did.”

She wasn’t the sort to come out and say it, but I also knew that she was having a tough time making ends meet. My father’s lingering death and prolonged hospital treatment had left her with more bills than the small insurance policy could cover. If I was earning, I would be able to help her.

Still, I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of working for Jonah Crenshaw’s father or TMG. Besides that, I disliked the idea of being an office boy. But this job didn’t have to last forever, maybe just a year or so. That would be enough to help pay off the debts my mother had, but there were other ways to make a living.

“Sounds great. Not,” I said, eyes fixed straight ahead on the road.

In the driveway, I helped my mother from the car and walked her inside and followed her into the kitchen as she put a kettle on for some tea. I stood silently in the kitchen doorway watching her fill the kettle and then place it on the hot stove.

“Mom, I can’t do this, this new job.”

“Trust Media? Of course you can. They have a training program. Orientation, Mr. Crenshaw called it.”

“Not what I mean, Mom. I don’t know what I want to do yet, but this isn’t it. I’ll find something else to do. I would really like to write.”

“Well, you can still write. It’s good to have a hobby.”

I felt annoyed, angry and frustrated, all at once.

“I will not work at TMG!” Tears welled in my eyes.

“You’re a dreamer, just like your father. Look where that got him!” She was upset and her head shook when she spoke. She raised her hands up as if calling on help from above. “You can’t make a living from dreaming. You’ve got to get a real job. It’s time to stop being a child and start being an adult.”

“I’ll pay my way. I’ll find something to get me by, but I’ve got to have time to figure things out. I’m not going to work for TMG, and that’s final. Not you or anyone is going to make me work for TMG! You hear me? No one!”

I braced myself for the anticipated, harsh words I was certain would come but when my mother opened her mouth, nothing came out. She just stood there, statuesque and poised, and then she gasped.

It was a ragged drag on the air, and I noticed the look on her face, now. It wasn’t anger and resentment. It was fear. She stumbled back on the stove, and her outstretched hand clutched her chest.

I moved to catch her and she screamed, shrill and high pitched. Only it wasn’t a scream. It was only the sound of the kettle whistling.

~~~~~

My mother had a stroke. She’d been working too hard since my father died, doing various housecleaning jobs as she could get them. She was also getting older and couldn’t keep up the pace. She recovered, but not fully, and now needed full-time medical care. I went to work at TMG to support her. Years later, I am still at TMG and still supporting her.

I left the cemetery and drove back to the office. I had a full inbox but I didn’t get any work done. I had my performance forms to complete, calls to make, a meeting to go to. I did none of them.

 

~~~~~

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Sixteen

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Episode Sixteen

 

I withdrew after my father died.  I was never outgoing but now, I was more introverted than ever. I had a lot of trouble making friends and interacting with others.

I remember Ms. Hall’s 3rd grade class – I would sit at my assigned desk, just like the other children sitting at other desks in the room. We were supposed to draw what we want to be when we grow up; it was supposed to be a fun assignment. I had a manila piece of paper in front of me.

The kids at the desks around me were busy coloring with crayons. Some were drawing guys building houses, driving cars or piloting airplanes. One was drawing a rocket ship. The page in front of me is blank except that I had put my name at the top left corner. ‘Bobby’ in purple crayon, and written at a slight angle.

Ms. Hall, a 40-something school teacher, strolled around, observing the students and nodding with approval at their projects. She came by my desk and stopped, assessing the blank paper in front of me. I didn’t look up, but I felt her presence. After a moment, she sighed and moved on.

They used to call this Art Class. Now, it’s Defamation. Now, it’s Biased Judgment. Now, it’s life.

The other children were engrossed in their creations, so I turned my attention back to the blank paper in front of me. Picking up a green crayon, I put it back down and then got a red one. I started marking on the page.

When art class was almost over, the teacher came back around to me, smiling. Like the other kids, I had finally drawn something. As she approached, her smile faded and her brow creased a bit. The page was covered with words. In fact, the paper was full of words, telling a story about a man in jail. She looked over my shoulder and picked it up. She flipped the page over and noticed that the words continued on the back. She turns the page back over, and scrawled at the top of the paper in red crayon it reads, “Trapped.”

“Bobby,” she said in a deliberate and kind tone, “why don’t you go outside and play with the other children.”

“But I’m not done with my story.”

“That’s ok. You were supposed to draw a picture. We’ll write stories another time,” she urged, looking at the paper with concern.

I got up and left the room, but not before I saw her take my paper and put it in the top drawer of her desk.

 

~~~~~

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Fifteen

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Episode Fifteen

 

It took a while to find my father’s grave. It had been a while since I had visited. Odd, the things you choose to remember about people when they are gone.

A frail and withered man lay sleeping in an oxygen tent. His breathing was shallow and uneven, and the medical apparatus in the room had tubes and wires that connected them to the man in the bubble. The machines beeped and clicked.

I was seven years old; looking through the clear, rectangular material at what my father was reduced to being. Were it not for the medication, oxygen tent and the other machines, my father would have died months ago. The tumor had been growing out of control for a while, but this last month had been the worst. The doctors weren’t sure how much longer he would hang on. I looked  at him as he breathed uncomfortably and a tear rolled down my cheek, unhindered.

They used to call it a deathwatch. Now, it’s visiting hours. Now, it’s quality time with Dad. Now, it’s life.

My father looked different, distorted by the plastic sheet of the oxygen tent, so I cautiously bent down and stepped inside the tent, careful not to disturb any of the hoses or wires, practically tiptoeing around them to get a better look, and as I did, my father’s eyes fluttered open to a semi-conscious state.

He pulled a deep breath and strained to say, “Hey there. I got you something, Chief.”

It was a muffled whisper that I barely understood. His hand rose slightly from the bed and he was holding a Rubik’s Cube.

He knew how confining a hospital must be for a kid my age. He had asked a nurse to fetch something from the gift shop to keep me busy and keep my mind on something else other than his condition.

I took the toy, smiled and said, “Thanks Dad.”

He had already slipped back into unconsciousness.

I went back and sat in the chair, the only chair in the room, and focused on the Rubik’s Cube, slowly and deliberately turning the rows of colored cubes. I knew the goal was to get all the same colored cubes on each side, but the distraction of the toy was comforting, and I was really just going through the motions of turning and turning and turning without thinking about it.

beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!

The sharp, sustained noise startled me, and I realized the EKG machine connected to my father is showing a flat line. Another machine started a lower-pitch Beep! Beep! Beep! and about twenty seconds pass with the noisy alarms filling the room before anyone came in to the room. I sat there, watching.

Finally, a nurse came in and hurried to the oxygen tent. She checked the tubes and wires. A doctor and another nurse join her, the doctor opening the tent and putting his stethoscope on the man’s chest. They go through the process of trying to revive my father. Preoccupied with their tasks, none of them noticed me, sitting quietly in the chair, watching. Still clutching the Rubik’s Cube, my knuckles were white.

 

~~~~~

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Fourteen

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Episode Fourteen

 

I drove around for a while. I didn’t see any point in going back to the office, and I wound up at Rose Hill Cemetery. It just seemed like the right place to be.

On the hill was a gathering of about twenty people. Dressed in black and seated on wooden folding chairs, they stood out in stark contrast to the green grass, perfect rows of granite markers and blue sky. A few cars and a limousine were parked on the nearby street.

It was a burial of course – a graveside memorial. I cocked my head to one side as I watched. The casket was a pewter-colored box on a pedestal or something.

I parked and got out of the car, moving closer – discreet but attentive to the memorial. Someone is saying some kind words about… Whoever. The casket is open and I can see the body inside is that of a middle-aged man. Even from this distance, it’s easy to see that they went too heavy on the rouge, his cheeks almost red on his otherwise pale face.

I realized that I was intruding on a sacred and personal event, and the friends and relatives probably would not appreciate my staring, but no one seemed to notice me, as usual.

When the ceremony ended, they lowered the casket into the ground. I watched as everyone rose from their chairs and filed back toward their cars, in pairs or sometimes alone. One woman stepped to the edge of the grave and tossed in a flower – a rose I think. After a moment, she turned and walked back towards the parked vehicles.

Once everyone had made their way from the grave site, I slowly approached,  stepping to the edge and peering into the hole. At the bottom lay the pewter box with a single white rose resting on its lid.  It looked so serene.

Sitting down on one of the folding chairs, my jacket rode up on one side and something poked me in the ribs. Reaching around, I pulled out the package I had picked up at the post office, still wrapped.

I tore the paper off to reveal a rather plain black book with an elastic band stretched around it. Embossed in gold on the cover it had one word:

Journal

I removed the band and opened it. The cover creaked a little with stiffness as I turned to the first page and read it.

“This is the Journal of Jonathan Bocks.”

This was my father’s. I never knew he kept a journal. I flipped a few pages and read the heading:

“Went out for the swim team. Failed.”

Apparently, my father had started keeping this journal on or shortly after his sixteenth birthday. For the first time in longer than I could remember, I was excited about something. I could hardly wait to read the book, not only that it was my father’s journal, but a long time ago, my father, or someone, had arranged to have it sent to me now.

I leafed ahead sixty pages or so and stopped on a page that read, “Today I became a Father.”

“Red and wrinkled, the newborn baby wriggled in the hospital crib under the harsh fluorescent lighting in the ward. Everything is white except his little blue stocking cap. The label on the crib reads, ‘Robert Bokes’ written in black marker. That is my son.

Next to him and all around him are identical cribs with nearly identical little red and wrinkled babies wearing blue or pink stocking caps. The babies all seem so isolated in each little crib, compartmentalized.’

I stopped reading and looked at the grave in front of me. It was hard to see any difference between the beginning and the end.

“Excuse me.”

The voice startled me and I stood up from my seat to see a dark haired woman in her twenties.  I recognized her from the funeral – she dropped the rose in the grave. I was caught off guard and didn’t know what to say. I just stared at her.

“I forgot my umbrella.” She said, pointing down next to the chair I had been sitting in.

I was paralyzed, partly with fear from having been discovered next to a stranger’s open grave and partly because I was always awkward around women, especially women this pretty. Except for Tanner, – she was the one exception, the one woman that I didn’t feel the need to try to be something other than myself.

When I didn’t move, the woman reached down and retrieved the umbrella resting near my feet. “Did you know my father well?” the women asked.

“No, not well.” I replied.

The woman nodded her head.

“Neither did I.”

This seemed a very personal thing to tell a stranger and now I was really unsure of what to do.

“It was a nice ceremony though – very… pretty.” This was all I could think of.

“Yes it was.” The woman looked around the cemetery. “I’ve always liked the fall. The changing colors, it’s so beautiful.”

She picked up a bright red leaf sitting on the chair next to her. She held it by its stem and twirled the leaf by rolling the stem between her finger and thumb. “I wish the leaves always looked like this.”

I was trying to think of something appropriate to say and blurted out the first nearly relevant thing that came to my mind. “They do!”

The women gave me a puzzled look.

“The leaves – they’re always that color. Each leaf is red or yellow or orange, but you just can’t see the color through all the green chlorophyll. When the cold weather starts, the tree prepares for winter by drawing the chlorophyll back in to the trunk, and that exposes the color that was always there.”

The women smiled at me. This time, her smile was not sad.

“Then the leaf… dies, and falls off,” I added, realizing that I should have stopped while I was ahead.

“Well, it’s too bad we don’t get to see its true colors until its life is over.” Her sadness seemed to return, but then she added, “But I’m glad it makes that last effort. It’d be a shame if it died without at least giving us a glimpse.”

After an awkward pause, the woman gestured toward the other guests milling next to their cars and said, “Well, I better get back. Are you going?”

I was enjoying talking to this woman, uncomfortable though it was. I almost forgot that I was in a cemetery. I had forgotten what Dr. Maddox had said. The reality though, was that I had more in common with the residents of the cemetery than with those who attended the service.

“No, there’s someone else here I need to visit.”

“Well it was nice meeting you. And it was very informative,” said the woman, flashing a charming smile.

In a different place, with different circumstances, and if I were a different man, I might have asked her to coffee or dinner.  instead, I smiled and nodded slightly.  She extended the leaf she was holding to me, and I took it.

I looked at the leaf in my hand and then up at her as she walked down the hill toward the waiting group. I absently slid the leaf between the pages of the journal and walked away in the opposite direction.

 

~~~~~

 

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Thirteen

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Episode Thirteen

 

At 3:15, I am finally called from the waiting room to see the doctor. I sat in the chair opposite his desk, putting my hands in my lap to avoid fidgeting.

Dr. Maddox flipped through a file folder. On the top was the paperwork I had filled out.

Dr. Maddox removed his glasses and began cleaning them with a monogrammed handkerchief. He held his glasses up to the light.

“I just can’t keep these things clean!” He complained, wiping the lenses again.

He wasn’t really speaking to me, but I was the only other person in the office. I looked around. A degree from the University of… wherever, hung on the wall, along with other awards and accolades. Pictures of his kids were on the ornate wooden bookshelves, along with a picture of his Porsche and a picture from a deep sea fishing trip. And there were books; lots of books and medical journals.

“So anyway,” Dr. Maddox returned his glasses to his face and continued, “I’m sorry to inform you that I agree 100% with the findings of the four previous neurosurgeons. There’s no way to know exactly how much longer you have. There have been some attempts to remove the malignancy in similar cases, but none have had successful results.”

“I don’t understand.” I looked away from the doctor and down at his hands. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. “I feel fine, just headaches. I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. Causes eye strain… headaches. You’re saying there’s more to this than that?” This has been my routine comment when doctors hit me with the bad news.

“Yes, quite a bit more.”

Dr. Maddox resented this part of the job; having to speak in terms that his patients could understand. He would have to go into what he liked to call talk-down mode. Telling me I was dying was easy. Telling me in layman’s terms was annoying. On top of that, I was expecting him to do something to stave off inevitable death; to cure my illness and save me. This is déjà vu for me.

Dr. Maddox said, “Your brain will be systematically shutting down as the tumor spreads. Considering the location of the tumor, and considering your otherwise good health, you’ll probably be fully functional right up until you are very close to your death.”

I gaped at the doctor. He was going through his routine. I was going through mine.

“Is there nothing you can do? My Father died of a tumor almost 20 years ago. There’s been research… new treatments… there must be something you can do now.”

Dr. Maddox sighed heavily. “A tumor is an unnecessary growth of normal or abnormal cells. Some tumors are treatable and some are not. Tumors are graded on a scale. One, for benign and treatable tumors, to four, for rapidly growing and malignant tumors. The tumor you are afflicted with is a grade four tumor.”

Dr. Maddox took out a prescription pad and scribbled something on it.

“I’m going to give you this for the headaches. As they get worse, you can take this for the pain. I allowed for one refill, in case you need it.”

He tore off the top sheet of the pad and handed it to me. I just stared back at the doctor, blankly, hoping for something. For some sign of hope, some chance that this could all just be a terrible mistake. Like I said, I’ve been through this before and I had my routine.

“You understand Mr. Bokes, there really is no way to tell in these cases. It could be a week, it could be a year. It’s not treatable and it is always terminal.”

 

~~~~~

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Twelve

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Episode Twelve

 

As I sat down in the seat of my car, I heard a crumpling sound. I reached under my butt and pulled out a slip of paper.

I had forgotten about this – it’s reminding me to pick up a package at the post office. It required a signature. No idea what this is – I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon or another online retailer lately, but I think I can take care of this and make it to the doctor on time.

The line at the post office moved along slowly. This was taking longer than I expected, and I nervously checked my watch. I didn’t want to be late for my appointment with Dr. Maddox; he might make me reschedule.

Finally I was next in line. After milling around for a few minutes, the man behind the counter at the post office motioned for me to come forward. The patch sewn to his shirt read ‘Ed’.

“This slip was left in my door. It says I have a package waiting.”

I held out the yellow slip of paper and Ed took it, raising it to within inches of his glasses.  He looked it over for at least a minute before moving slowly to a back room and out of sight. He eventually emerged with a small package. He pushed a form across the counter to me.

I looked it over. “So… where do I sign?”

Ed pointed in the direction of the bottom of the page and said, “There, in the box.”

“Right!” I agreed, signing it quickly and handing it back to Ed.

“That’s it,” Ed said, handing me the package and then returning his attention to his portion of the paperwork.

It was a small package wrapped in heavy brown paper. The wrapping was fastened with tape that had turned yellow with age. I took it and looked at the label. Odd. It was apparently mailed almost sixteen years ago, but had instructions that said it was not to be delivered until this month.

“Delivered at 1:52pm,” said Ed recording the time and date on the form.

I looked up from the package. “What did you say?”

“The time. 1:52pm,” said Ed pointing to the form.

I looked at my watch nervously. I was going to be late. I shoved the package in my jacket pocket and hurried out to my car.

I made it to the doctor’s office at 2:05. Not too late. The woman at the front desk slid a square clipboard under the Plexiglas window and I took it.

“Fill out all three pages and sign in the box.”

I looked over the paper work.

“Excuse me, but I filled this out last time I was here.”

“You have to fill out a new one every time so that we’re current.”

She said this without looking away from her computer.

“Look, it was just last week. I had some tests done. I’m just here to get the results.”

“You have to fill a new one out every time.” She spoke more slowly and deliberately now. She glanced at me as if maybe I had a learning disorder and hadn’t understood her the first time. “So that we’re current,” She added.

When I started to say something else, she added, “No exceptions.”

My headache was throbbing and I surrendered. I sat down in the waiting room and filled out the forms. Again.

 

~~~~~

 

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Eleven

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Episode Eleven

Later that day, we were trapped in the usual meeting with management to remind us of how insignificant we are. Even the recognition given for accomplishments seemed to underline the fact that we were not important.

Snavely was going through a hand-full of recognition awards for vague things like “cross-teaming” and “customer focus.” Then he announced that the “Research employee of the month” is Tanner Orb.

I tried not to look shocked or disappointed, but how did this happen? Tanner cleared the most articles in the shortest time with the most direct quotes. The award is the employee of the month parking spot. My parking spot.

“Bobby, it looks like your prodigy has usurped your throne,” Snavely said with a smile.

I wanted to punch him in the face. I wanted to punch myself. This award was so stupid, why did it matter to me?

I smiled and shrugged.

“What can I say?”

After the meeting was over, I left the room and headed back to my cube without talking to anyone. I had a terrible headache so I opened the aspirin bottle I keep at my desk, but there was only one pill left. I took the pill and opened a new bottle of 600; I’d been buying aspirin in the big, economy bottles. While I was fumbling with the safety seal on the bottle, Tanner showed up.

“Tough break on the Employee of the month thing, but your streak had to end sometime, Bobby.”

“Right. Don’t worry about it. You earned it but just take good care of my parking spot. I’ll be parking there again next month.” Then I remembered something. “I finished that book you loaned me.” I pulled the book out of my briefcase and gave it to Tanner. “I couldn’t put it down. The author had a real talent for weaving a story that was intricate, yet easy to follow. I felt like I was right there with him, climbing Everest. You were right, it was… inspiring.”

“I know! I loved that book. It’s almost like some incurable disease these guys get – trying to climb Everest. Interesting stuff.”

I noticed that Tanner was carrying another book.

“What’s that?”

Tanner held up the book: The Cream Rises. It was some corporate business book written by an ex-CEO about power lunches or something. “Gotta go! Duty calls.”

As Tanner walked away, I mused over how she had changed; how she had adapted to the Research Analyst role. My thoughts were interrupted by an irritating beep from my computer. It was a reminder from my calendar that I had a doctor’s appointment.

 

~~~~~

 

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Ten

 

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Chapter 6

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!

I listened to the alarm and sat up in bed. The clock read 6:30. I smacked the off button  and the shrill sound stopped. Yawning, I started for the bathroom to begin my morning routine.

In the kitchen, I dropped the bread into the toaster and pressed the lever down. On the counter next to the stove sat a small clay pot with several cooking utensils sticking out of it. I absently reached over and pulled out a large wooden fork and placed it next to the toaster.

I looked out the window. Weeds had overtaken my small back yard. Let them, I thought.

The toaster made its loud “chunk!” noise, but as usual, no toast popped up. I picked up the wooden fork and dug around inside the toaster, fishing out two pieces of toast and then sat at the table.

I am going to die, soon. I should do something.

The thought wandered across my mind as it often does. And as it had done each time before, it was pushed out as I began thinking about my workday.

Later that morning, on my way through the office, I stopped by Tanner’s cube to say hi. She had her headset on. Leaning back in her chair, she repeatedly squeezed a spongy stress ball with the TMG logo on it as she spoke to… whoever.

“But you do speak to military personnel regularly, correct?”

This was a common ploy used to manipulate the individual into saying something we could use. Tanner’s eyebrows raised in anticipation of an agreeing statement.

“I see. And what do you talk about with the lieutenant, then?”

Tanner listened for a second then sat forward like a fisherman with a nibble on the line, preparing to set the hook and reel in the fish.

“Uh huh, confidential, I see.”

Tanner scribbled something on the notepad in front of her.

“So, what you’re saying is that in all your conversations with the military they never mentioned the existence of any time machine, right?”

Tanner paused and listened, but you could tell that she had already decided what to say next.

“So it’s safe to say that you can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a time machine being tested by the US military?”

There it was – It was a question but the way Tanner said it, it sounded like a statement.

“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”

Tanner spat out the entire sentence almost as one word. She quickly punched the orange release button on the phone, disconnecting the other person.

“Hey, Bobby! Hold on a second and let me get this down.”

Tanner typed the sentence:

Confidential sources in frequent contact with the military say they cannot deny the existence of the time machine.

Tanner closed the file folder on her desk and placed it in the Outbox. The Inbox was a short stack of folders.

“Good morning, Master Baiter,” I said. “I’ll let you get back to your tasks.”

“Sorry so busy. I’ll catch you at lunch, OK?”

I waved and moved on as she pulled another folder from the stack and dialed another number.

“Yes, Mrs. Wheeler?” Tanner scanned the file.

“Hi, I’m calling about the unusual lights you saw in a farm field about 3 weeks ago…”

Tanner picked up the stress ball and started squeezing it rapidly again.

“OK, but even if that did turn out to be the source, wouldn’t you say that it was ‘unusual’ for a farmer to be driving a tractor at night?”

I rounded the corner and went to my cube.

 

~~~~~

 

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel) Episode Nine

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Episode Nine

Chapter 5

 

“Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!”

I listened to the alarm as I sat up in bed. The alarm clock read 6:30. I smacked the off button on the top of the clock and the shrill sound stopped. With a weary sigh, I started for the bathroom and began my morning routine.

In the kitchen, I dropped the bread into the toaster and pressed the lever down. Waiting for the toast, I looked out the window and noticed the grass had gotten tall. Great. I would have to mow it soon. Summer yard work seemed to be a continuous and pointless cycle. You watered the lawn so it would grow but then you would cut the lawn because it had grown. Then you would water it again.

The toaster made its loud “chunk!” noise. I continued to look out the window, flipped the toaster upside-down, and shook it over the plate until the bread fell out. I put the toaster down unceremoniously and took my plate of toast and burnt crumbs to the table, sat down and opened the paper. This is just another day I would let slip by on my prematurely shortened, agenda-less life.

Later that morning, as I walked to my cube, I passed Tanner’s cube and snagged one of the Velcro darts from her desk. Without stopping, I threw it at the felt globe-dartboard. After I got a few cubes down the aisle, Tanner yelled out, “Afghanistan.”

That’s where the dart landed. I shouted back, “Destitute homeland of terrorists. Got it!”

Once I got to my cube and logged in, I did a search engine look-up on the Internet for Afghanistan, but my phone rang before I could click any of the links that Bing brought up. The LCD display on the phone showed it was Tanorb.

“I’m looking already!” I said, answering the phone.

Your objective, should you chose accept it, is to find a story from Afghanistan.” After a pause, she added, “A dirty limerick doesn’t count.”

“Yeah, I already used that for Sweden, anyway. I think finding a dirty limerick from Afghanistan might be a tad hard to come by. But it’s not hard to find a news story from there, these days.”

Tanner was quiet for a few seconds too long, and then I heard her say to someone else, “Yes sir.” Then back to me, she said, “I’ve got to go. Mr. Snavely wants to see me.” Click.

I found out later that Snavely chewed her out for being too conscientious about researching the stories. Snavely views this as a volume business. At first, I had doubted that Tanner would cut it here. She just didn’t seem to be able to unplug her logic and integrity while on the job, and it tripped her up over and over. Now, two months later, she is still making the same mistakes.

 

~~~~~

 

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel)–Episode Eight

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Episode Eight

Later that day, we were at the Fox and Hound, one of those faux-Irish pubs. Most Friday nights, we come here to loosen up before heading home and starting the weekend. Tanner had finally started to relax and seemed to put the events of the day behind her.

Tanner put her bottle down, feeling a little looser after drinking most of a beer. I got the impression she didn’t really drink that much; I don’t even think she liked the taste of beer. But she was out with work associates and she wanted to fit in. The mellow buzz had settled on her and the talking at the table had dropped to a lull.

“So, what’s up with that framed issue of Trusted Authority in Snavely’s office?” She asked.

Everyone around the table looked at each other and then back to Tanner, and they all erupted in laughter.

“No really. What’s the big deal? Bobby, you tell me.”

As the laughter died down, I cleared my throat and sat up straight, poised to tell the story. As I began, my tone grew quietly somber.

“It was an accident, really. It was back in ’94, and Snavely was one of the respected editors of Weekly News. You know, the reputable but boring news publication that TMG has; the yin to Trusted Authority’s yang.”

Or is that yang to TA’s yin? I stopped and puzzled over this a second before deciding it didn’t matter and continued.

“Anyway, Lester here,” I said gesturing to the balding man sitting across the table who shyly waved in acknowledgement, “Lester was writing a story for Weekly News.”

“Come on Lester, you tell us the rest!” said Brian, one of the researchers.

Lester took a long pull on his beer and said, “You all suck.”

I laughed and said, “OK, Lester. I’ll tell the story, but you correct me if I go wrong. Deal?”

Lester mocked me saying, “Deal?”

There were smirks and jibes from others around the table, but I could see Tanner was rapt. I continued.

“Lester was doing a story on Intel’s new processor, the Pentium. Lester did a bang-up job reporting the specs of this cutting-edge technology, but the problem was he was a little rushed. When he did a quick spell check in the word processor, he didn’t pay attention to what words it was supplementing for what it thought were misspelled ones. ‘Pentium’ was not in the spelling checker’s dictionary, but Lester didn’t notice. He printed out the story and took it to Snavely.

Snavely didn’t give it a good read, either. It was too close to deadline, I guess. Anyway, he approved the story, and it went to typesetting, then to print, and then to distribution.”

“Duh-dummmmmm,” Brian added for dramatic effect. Brian had already had four beers and it looked like he was just getting warmed up.

I looked around the table at everyone and pulled the small candle in the center closer so that it lit my face eerily. I dropped my tone a little lower.

“So the April 12, 1994 issue of Weekly News hit the newsstands, and as business men opened it and thumbed through the pages, they came to the story on page 19, ‘Intel unveils Penis!’”

More laughter, and Jennifer ordered another round with a gesture to the waitress, but I continued.

“Back in 1994, ‘Penis’ was the closest suggestion the word processor could suggest for ‘Pentium.’ All the way through the story, it talked about this powerful new ‘Penis,’ and that it would revolutionize the industry. I still remember the first paragraph in the story:

‘I was recently allowed into the innermost sanctum of the computer hardware giant, where the Penis was revealed to me. More impressive than its revolutionary design, which is a true marvel, is what the Penis is capable of accomplishing. The Penis will make our lives easier, if not for what the Penis itself can accomplish, but the empowering ways that we will undoubtedly use it.’”

Tanner laughed along with everyone else now.

“The story got lots of unwanted buzz and was covered by major news channels. The Intel Corporation was very forgiving; I bet they even got a good laugh out of it, but the embarrassment that it cost the magazine which prided itself on quality journalism was not so easily dismissed. James F. Trust didn’t want to just fire the people responsible. He wanted to punish them.

He busted Snavely and Lester down to The Trusted Authority. Lester accepted it, right, Lester? But Snavely… Snavely resented it. To go from editor of an award winning news magazine to an assistant editor of a trash tabloid was not something he took lightly. He decided he would exact vengeance on those he held responsible, so he authored the next headline story of Trusted Authority, and that, my dear Tanner, is the issue you saw framed in Snavely’s office. The front page graphic is imposing, don’t you think? The giant mushroom cloud rising from the computer, and of course, the headline.”

In unison, we all said, “Computer spell checkers will lead to World War III, experts say!” and we laughed, Tanner laughing right along with us.

Only Lester didn’t laugh, but Brian nudged him and mussed his bald head playfully, and then he then grinned slightly. The high spirits continued, but Tanner seemed to be drinking it in. This wasn’t just an after work social for her. It was school, and she needed to be a fast learner if she was going to make it.

~~~~~

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this episode of our  web-novel. 
Check back Thursday, March 29 for the next episode, and as always, feel free to comment below.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel)–Episode Seven

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Episode Seven

Later that morning, Tanner sat in her cube, the phone handset pressed to her ear with one hand while nervously shuffling paper with her other.

“No, I… Yes, yes that is what I said. But, how could I possibly verify that…?”

Tanner held the receiver out from her ear  as the person on the other end screamed and ranted. After a few seconds there seemed to be a lull and Tanner put the phone back to her ear.

“All I’m saying is that there is no way for me to verify that…” She checked her computer screen. “‘Alien anal probes have increased 600% this year alone.’”

Tanner listened as the person on the other end started yelling again.

“No, I… I guess I can’t rule it out either… Uh, about a week, I’ve been here about eight days. Hello?”

The angry person had hung up. Tanner sat, staring straight ahead, still holding the receiver. After a few seconds, she hung up.

To her right was a basket marked ‘IN’, stacked high with file folders and paperwork. Tanner pulled a file folder off the stack and opened it, let out a sigh, picked up the phone, and punched in a phone number.

“Yes, this is Tanner Orb with the Trusted Authority. It’s… sort of a news magazine. Is there someone there at the Pentagon who I could talk to about aliens? No… space aliens. Yes, specifically, space aliens who do anal probes. Yes, I’ll hold.”

From my vantage point, I watched her struggle through. It was a little voyeuristic  but I was supposed to ramp her up. I’d take some of the blame if she didn’t work out. Still, I found her easy to look at. She really was quite lovely. Not like a movie star or model, but she had a natural beauty and a love of life – a sparkle in her eyes. I wondered if perhaps I was attracted to her because she had aspirations beyond… this.  She had aspirations beyond mine.

~~~~~

Still later that day, Tanner and I were in a meeting. Seymour Newd, the Chief Editor, was displaying the mock-up for the front page of the next issue of Trusted Authority.  The headline reads, ‘Aliens attack the rich!’  It had a badly faked image of a flying saucer shooting a laser beam at a yacht.

“This might broaden our appeal to the upper class sector,” Seymour said to Ed, one of the writers. “And, this will help establish our demand with the lower class sector, because they are the have-nots and resent the rich.”

The editors are all scavengers and parasites, looking for some angle or buzz-word to sell copy.  It’s a job.  The discussion continued and I quit listening, at least, until Tanner chimed in.

Tanner cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me.” No one noticed and the chatter continued.  “Excuse me.”  This time a little louder, but still not very forceful. No change. “Hey! Excuse me!”  She yelled, a bit louder than she meant to.

All noise in the room stopped as eyes turned to Tanner.

“I finished the research on that piece.  The story doesn’t pan out.  The captain of the yacht saw no UFOs.  Just something fell from the sky and punched a hole all the way through the hull of the ship and it sank.”

Tanner looked around the room and evaluated the expressions on everyone’s faces, and I know she saw that I was shaking my head side to side.  It was very slight, but she caught it.  She continued anyway.

“Turns out that an old satellite was scheduled to re-enter the atmosphere on that date, directly over the ocean where the ship was at the same time.  I verified this with NASA.  I got some remarkable double-talk from them, trying to disavow any ownership of it.  Pretty interesting stuff.”

Blank looks all around the room. I put my hands up to my face and rubbed my forehead.

She continued, “And as for that millionaire, Alan Trint.  He was on a golf course during a thunderstorm.  He was just struck by lightning, not attacked by aliens.”

She paused and the room was completely silent. I moaned slightly, but in the absence of any other noise, it was evident.

Seymour looked at Snavely and said, “Bill? This is one of yours?”

Snavely put down his pen and sighed.   I had a sudden sinking feeling in my stomach.

Snavely said, “Thank you, Tanner.  You’ve done your homework on this one, and that’s commendable.  But we need to have some eye-witness accounts that backup our story.  We need pieces of information that fit our story.  It’s as if you were researching a completely different story… a story all your own.”

“No!  That’s not it. I was just verifying the facts and… they didn’t… verify.”

“It’s your job to find facts that DO verify, Tanner.”

Snavely wasn’t bothering to pretend to be patient, now.  Blunt and direct.  Crush whatever concept this new person has of the job and then reconstruct it.  That’s his way. I’d been here before.

“But what about journalistic integrity?”  Tanner said defensively.

I put my head in my hands.  There was a full three seconds of complete, vacuous silence before everyone, including Snavely, erupted in guffaws of laughter.  The laughter continued, and with each passing second, Tanner seemed to diminish and shrink in her chair.

“The integrity of the job, Dear,” Snavely breathed, wiping a tear from his eye and regaining his composure, “is to corroborate information with the story you are researching.  That,” he lost his composure for a second and starts to laugh again but regained it quickly.  “That is the integrity.  It’s integrity to the story.  Integrity to the story.  Do you understand?”

Tanner just nodded and stared down at the file folder on the table in front of her.

It wasn’t a good day for her. After Snavely burned her down in front of everyone, I talked to her, too. I didn’t do it in front of anyone, but she was my responsibility. This scene she caused made us both look bad.

~~~~~

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this episode of our  web-novel.
Check back Thursday, March 26 for the next episode, and as always, feel free to comment below.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet (Web-Novel)–Episode Six

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Episode Six

Chapter 4

I pulled up and parked my car into my assigned slot among a sea of other cars. A sign in front of the parking space reads, “Star Researcher of the Month.” There are other spots closer to the door, but this is the spot I earned.

This day is the same as the last day. I walked past  rows of cubes to my own little haven – My home away from home, my cubicle. I felt a headache coming on, same as the day before, and same as the days before that. Dropping my bag down on the desk, I pressed the power button on my computer. While I was waiting for it to boot up, I opened my desk drawer and took out a bottle of Tylenol and popped two into my mouth, swallowing them without water. Grabbing my coffee mug, I headed to the fountain of youth – the coffee pot.

As I rounded the corner, I was surprised to see Tanner missing from her cube. The first week had been about getting set up – filling out paper work, getting access to network, mind-numbing busy work. But now, in her second week, she has assignments and responsibilities, and I’m accountable for her performance, or lack of. I’ll have to fix that.

But I had no coffee, and that was priority one. I made my way toward the break room, where I heard laughter. This was a sound I didn’t hear often at work.

I stepped through the break room door and saw Tanner standing next to the coffee maker. There were about a half dozen people from the office gathered around her, some seated in chairs, some perched on the edges of the counter.

“…and that’s why she laughs every time it snows.”

Tanner smiled and scanned their faces for reaction. The group was a mixture of quiet laughter and reminiscent sighs. Everyone had bright smiles on their faces.

“Great story, Tanner. Thank you,” Richard said, and others in the group nodded or agreed as they gathered themselves together to go back to… whatever.

I stood in the corner by the vending machine as everyone filed out of the room. Then it was quiet.

Hello, Bobby! Good morning,”  Tanner said.

“Looks like you’ve made friends already,” I said, filling my cup and taking a cautious sip. I meant for it to be an agreeable statement but it ended up sounding like a question. “They seemed to be enjoying your story, anyway,” I amended.

“They’re really nice people. I was telling a story from the book, Top of the World. Have you ever heard it?”

“No, I can’t say I have.”

“Oh, it’s a great story, very poignant. I have a first edition copy, signed by the author. You are welcome to borrow it if you want.”

I sighed.

“Listen, Tanner, it’s great that you’re fitting in and making friends, but you have to be careful about drawing too much attention to yourself. You don’t really want to stand out – not this early. It’s best to fly under the radar.”

Tanner smiled and nodded but I could tell she didn’t get it, or maybe, she didn’t care.

“When they want someone to work the weekend, or spearhead the next ‘safety awareness campaign’ or worse yet, decide who to lay-off, who do you think is going to be the first one chosen? The person everyone knows, or the person they’ve never heard of?  Being anonymous has its advantages.”

“What about getting ahead? You know, networking?” asked Tanner.

“Making friends in high places? You may ride high for a while, but when they lose interest in you, you’re out. I’ve seen it a hundred times. It’s risky business. Nope, invisibility is the key to longevity. Trust me.”

“I’m not sure I’m after longevity at Trusted Authority.  I do appreciate the steady paycheck, but I don’t know if this is really what I want to be doing three years from now. I want to start a career path into management here, maybe for a different publication by Trust Media.”

“If that’s what you want.”

I started toward the door and remembered something, turning back toward Tanner. “Oh, it’s Friday. A bunch of us are going to happy hour after work. You should come.”

Tanner looked up, smiled a little and shook his head. “I know.  Joe told me.  I’ll be there,” she said with a smile.  “He’s cute.”

~~~~~

Later that morning, Tanner sat in her cube, the phone handset pressed to her ear with one hand while she nervously shuffled paper with her other.

“No, I… Yes, yes that is what I said. But, how could I possible verify that…?”

Tanner held the receiver out from her ear a few inches as the person on the other end screamed and ranted. After a few seconds there seemed to be a lull and Tanner put the phone back to her ear.

“All I’m saying is that there is no way for me to verify that…” She checked her computer screen and read, ”‘Alien anal probes have increased 600% this year alone.’”

Tanner listened as the person on the other end started yelling again.

“No, I… I guess I can’t rule it out either… Uh, a week, I’ve been here about eight days. Hello?”

The angry person had hung up. Tanner sat, staring straight ahead, still holding the receiver. After a few seconds, she put the handset back on the base.

To her right was a basket marked ‘IN’, stacked high with file folders and paperwork. Tanner pulled a file folder off the stack and opened it, let out a sigh, picked up the phone, and punched in a phone number.

“Yes, this is Tanner Orb with the Trusted Authority. It’s… sort of a news magazine. Is there someone there at the Pentagon who I could talk to about aliens? No… space aliens. Yes, specifically alien anal probes. Yes, I’ll hold.”

From my vantage point, I watched her struggle through. It was a little voyeuristic, but I was supposed to ramp her up. I’d take some of the blame if she didn’t work out. Still, I found her easy to look at. She really was quite lovely. Not like a movie star or model, but she had a natural beauty and a love of life – a sparkle in her eyes. I wondered if perhaps if I was attracted to her because she had aspirations beyond… this. She had aspirations beyond mine.

~~~~~

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet

©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender

Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd.  www.rubiks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this episode of our  web-novel. 
Check back Sunday, March 22 for the next episode, and feel free to comment below.