This is chapter four of an unpublished story I’m working on.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