How Bubba Handy’s Rogue Shithouse Saved the World

I wrote this one back in 2008, I think, when I was engaged in my Story of the Week project. It was a fun one to think about and write, and I think it’s a fun read, so now I present it to you, my two or three loyal readers. Enjoy!


HOW BUBBA HANDY’S ROGUE SHITHOUSE SAVED THE WORLD

by Richard S. Crawford

Copyright 2008

All rights reserved

5800 words

 

Lights flashed in the sky above Interstate 80, but I ignored them, figuring they were just reflections of headlights on the low-hanging clouds. I approached Mrs. Doyle’s ancient Chevy Nova. I had to pound on the window several times before she finally woke up. For a moment I thought she’d died, and that wouldn’t have been good for anyone.

But then she opened her eyes and looked at me. Her hair hung in oily strands, and the morning light danced in the grease and wrinkles on her face. But she smiled. “Good morning, Stephen. What’s for breakfast today?”

“Same as usual,” I replied. I hopped off my bicycle and opened my trailer. “Egg and sausage burritos.”

“Brilliant. My favorite!”

“I know, Mrs. Doyle.” I handed her one of the foil-wrapped breakfast burritos. “Three dollars.”

“Oh, dear. Prices have gone up again, haven’t they?”

“Sorry.”

“I only have three dollars and I have to save one for Bubba Handy. Can I owe you one?”

I shrugged. “Sure. You’re good for it. And it’s not as though you’re going anywhere.”

“Things look good today, I think.” She handed me two dollar bills. “I’ve got a good feeling in my bones.” She leaned close to me and whispered, “I think we might even move half a mile today.”

“If you say so, Mrs. Doyle.” If she were right, it would be welcome news. Mrs. Doyle had been on the intersection of I-5 and I-80 in Sacramento for a year or so. She’d left her home when she’d learned about the birth of her grandson, and was hoping to reach Dixon in time for his fifth birthday. But she was probably wrong. I’d never seen such a long move in a single day in my life.

“Do you know what time Bubba’s coming by, Stephen? I have a terrible need to go this morning.”

I looked back behind me. Most mornings, Bubba rode just behind me. Today he was running late. “I’m sure he’ll be along soon, Mrs. Doyle. You know he doesn’t like to keep his customers waiting.”

She smiled and leaned back. “Good. I’m hoping to get a lot of knitting done today. The Pattersons three cars back have ordered a set of jumpers for the whole family. I’ve heard it’s going to be a harsh winter, you know.”

I nodded. “I’ve heard that too. Well, Mrs. Doyle, I’ve really got to get going. Can’t let these burritos go cold, you know.”

“That’s right, dear, you go and do what you have to. I’ll see you for lunch time, will I?”

“You sure will, Ma’am. I’m just happy you’re such a loyal customer.”

“Don’t be silly. No one makes a breakfast burrito like you do. Oh, but there is one more thing.” She leaned toward me again, looked warily from side to side. “Can you keep a secret?”

I hesitated. I was in a rush, and I didn’t want to indulge Mrs. Doyle’s occasional bouts of paranoia; on the other hand, she hardly ever got to talk to anyone. “Sure, Mrs. Doyle.”

“I’ve been watching the Patel family a few cars ahead of me. Un-American lot, you know. I think they’re up to something. Something bad.”

“Surely not.”

“Oh they are. They’re always buying bits of metal and glass from that Robert Tinker whenever he comes by. I’m sure they’re building bombs.”

“Why would they want to build bombs?”

“To put under our cars at night, of course.”

“But why?”

“To get ahead. If they can blow up a few cars in front of them, they can move faster. Get to Iraq or Pakistan or wherever that much sooner.”

I couldn’t help letting out a little laugh. “Mrs. Doyle, you can’t drive to Pakistan or Iraq.”

“I know that, Stephen. But they could drive to the airport and fly there.”

For a moment I said nothing. I liked Mrs. Doyle a lot, but sometimes her paranoia and right-wing zealotry got to me. I smiled and put my right foot on the pedal. “I’m really in a hurry, Mrs. Doyle.”

“Oh, I know. Just keep an eye on the Patel family, would you, dear? And if you see Bubba, tell him to hurry it up just a bit.”

“Will do.” I pressed my foot down and headed further on into the traffic.

#

The cart attached to the back of Robert Tinker’s old Schwinn clanked with the scraps of metal and car parts that he traded. When I approached him his considerable brow was dripping with sweat and his cheeks and jowls quivered with exertion.

“Robert,” I said to him. “You seen Bubba? He’s running late.”

Robert braked to a stop and put his feet on the asphalt. “Yeah. Just a half hour or so ago at camp. He’s been working on his shithouse.”

“Oh? What’s he been doing to it?”

“How should I know?” Robert shrugged. “I just keep giving him shit from my cart. He pays me pretty good, so who cares.”

“Lot of people complaining about him being late.”

“Whatever. Not my problem. I just go in my pants when I need to, you know?” Robert let out a sound that could have been a laugh or an imitation of a large cow with intestinal discomfort. He put his foot back on the pedal. “Got a lot of business today. People all over the intersection are buying parts and equipment these days, and I gotta keep up with the demand. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Just one more thing, Robert. Do you know anything about the Patel family?”

Robert pursed his lips and let out a long, thoughtful raspberry. “Good customers,” he said at length. “Always pay on time. And they buy a lot.”

“Like what?

“Can’t say,” said Robert. “Customer client confidentiality, you know.”

“There’s no such thing.”

“There is when they pay enough.” He pushed down on the pedal and grunted away, dripping sweat onto the ancient asphalt.

I looked back in the direction from which Robert had come. If Robert had come from the merchants’ camp, then Bubba was probably still back there as well, doing God knows what to his shithouse. I decided to go down and see; people would want to know what had happened to him, after all. Besides, it was coming up on noon. The clouds would clear soon, and summer in the Sacramento area was always hot by midday, but the ride to the camp was downhill the whole way. It was be the closest thing to a break I’d be getting all day.

#

The merchants’ camp was nearly deserted, as it almost always was at this time of day. Most of us would be out on the highway trading with the drivers and their families.

But sure enough, I found Bubba Handy perched at the edge of his camp, seated on the ground before his shithouse, welding.

Bubba was a small guy, no more than five foot two, and weighing maybe one hundred pounds. He was wiry, with muscles that wrapped around his limbs like ropes. He always tied his long hair up in a topknot at the top of his head, like he was trying to make himself look taller while at the same time perfectly aware that he was fooling no one.

Bubba had attached the shithouse to the cart years before, and that was how he lugged it around the highway, bringing it to the drivers who needed to take a dump and were either too lazy or too weak to make it all the way to the bushes that lined the asphalt. He made a good living at it, charging people a dollar per dump.

“Bubba!” I called out to him. “You’re running late. People are starting to get pissed.”

He jumped and looked at me with wild eyes. It took a second before he seemed to focus, and then he relaxed. “Hey. Stephen. What’s up? Want a toke?”

I shook my head. “What are you up to? What have you done to this thing?” As I got closer I saw he had modified the shithouse almost beyond recognition. It was the same blue plastic box that it had always been, with the few minor changes that Bubba had added to it over the years, like the steel straps that he used to reinforce its structure and the vent on the top. But now copper tubing coiled from the top and sides like intestines; dials and meters stuck out from the sides at all angles, and huge pistons erupted from all sides..

“Holy crap,” I said. “How long have you been working on this?”

Bubba shrugged. “Since this morning.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Well, I got the first ideas about six weeks ago. I started buying the parts from Robert Tinker back then, and started planning out.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “But I didn’t really start assembling it until this morning.”

I looked the shithouse over again. Colored lights that flashed randomly from the many panels and tubs that had transformed the plastic box into a cybernetic toilet. Rivets stood out boldly wherever panels had been added together. “All right,” I said, “but what does all that stuff do?”

Bubba hesitated, then shrugged. “Not sure.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure?”

“I just got the ideas, you know? It’s like they came into my head from outside. I was just smoking a joint behind Dylan’s old Winnebago when there was this bright flash and I passed out. And when I woke up the plans for this thing were in my head. So I did what any one of us would do when you trip that hard and end up with designs for an impossible machine in your head. I built it.”

“Man, that’s going to be hell to pull around the highway.”

“But that’s the beauty part.” He stood up and walked around to the back side of the cart, then rested his hands on the two large copper drums that he had attached to it. “These guys here, they take the shit and the piss the people dump into it, and turn it into fuel. It’s like a shithouse that runs on shit. How perfect is that?”

I nodded, impressed. “But what about all this other stuff?”

“Fuck me if I know. Like this part, look.” He indicated an extrusion on the door, something like a brass tube that had been attached with a mesh of mesh of stiff copper wiring. “Parts of it come from a camera. Parts of it come from an old calculator that I got from Mrs. Patel. Parts of it come from an ancient GPS receiver that Robert found somewhere, he won’t tell me where. And parts of it came from a lawnmower. But I have no idea what it’s for or what it does.”

“But you built it.”

“I know. Pretty fucked up, huh?”

“Yeah.” I rubbed the back of my hand over my forehead. “But listen, Bubba, there’s people on the intersection that really need the shithouse. They’re counting on you, man.”

“I know.” He stood up and looked up at the sun. “I’m done fixing this thing up anyway, so I guess I can get going.” He flipped a switch on the side of the cart, and the thing roared into life with a growl like something I hadn’t heard since the previous spring, when the traffic had moved a quarter mile in a day. Fred Groat’s Volkswagen had made a noise just like the motorized shithouse. Smoke poured out from one of the tubes in the back, heavy and greasy, smelling exactly the way one would expect smoke pouring out of the back of a shithouse to smell.

Bubba grinned and hopped onto his bicycle. “This is gonna be sweet,” he said. He pedaled forward, and something inside the shithouse clicked and whirred into life. Bubba rode up the ramp of the intersection as if he were pulling nothing at all.

I looked back at my ancient food cart and wondered if maybe Bubba could trick it out the way he’d done his shithouse. Maybe it was time for a change. If I could have a cart powered by the fumes from egg and sausage burritos, that would be sweet.

#

I decided to swing by the Patel car. They were a good family after all; they’d started out in Lake Tahoe and were headed west to San Francisco, hoping that they could make a new life out there within the next decade or so. The two kids took advantage of the itinerant teachers to get their education, and they were frighteningly brilliant at mathematics. Most importantly, of course, they enjoyed the occasional burrito or tamale that I sold, even if they almost always ate the curries that Jamal sold from his own cart.

And today everyone in the family was in the mood for vegetarian burritos, which I had plenty of.

“I hear you’ve been buying a lot of equipment from Robert Tinker,” I said to Mr. Patel, handing him his change. I tried to peer surreptitiously into their car, looking for any sign of unusual electronic activity, or maybe equipment like what Bubba had attached to his shithouse. I didn’t see anything suspicious.

“Who told you that?” Mrs. Patel asked.

“No one. Well, Mrs. Doyle said she saw you buying a bunch of stuff, and Robert told me too. But he didn’t say anything about what he was selling you.”

“Ah. Client merchant confidentiality.”

“You can tell me. I can keep…”

Mrs. Patel interrupted. “It is a secret, Stephen. It’s a project I’ve been working on for months now, and Mr. Tinker has been kind enough to help me with it.” She was a tiny woman, barely reaching my breastbone and thin as a twig. The years had taken their toll on her, bringing heavy bags under her eyes and streaking her hair with gray. Yet there was a ferocity about her that intimidated folks twice her size. “So don’t bother us any more about it, all right?”

I took an involuntary step backwards. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Patel, I didn’t mean to pry.” I wished the family a nice day, and pedaled away.

I hadn’t gone very far, though, when I heard Mr. Patel calling after me. I stopped and turned around. He had left his car, and was running after me. He was a huge man, easily three times the size of his wife. “Stephen,” he panted, drawing close to me. “Stephen, you have to talk to Mr. Tinker. He is making my wife crazy.”

“What? How?”

“He keeps selling to her these machines and metal. Electronics too. I don’t know what she’s doing with them all. She won’t tell me and I can never find them at the end of the day. I don’t know where she’s putting them.”

I raised my eyebrows. “That is weird. But you know I asked Robert earlier what he was selling to you and Mrs. Patel, and he said he couldn’t tell me.”

“I don’t care what she is buying. Just, if you can tell Robert not to sell her these things, I would be most grateful.”

“Okay, I’ll try. I can’t say he’ll stop, though.”

He nodded. “I know. All I can ask is that you talk to him.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Mr. Patel thanked me, then walked back to his car, considerably slower than he had run at me earlier. At the time, I didn’t think much about what Mrs. Patel might have been building with the parts and equipment that Robert Tinker was selling to her; I thought it was just a spat between Mr. and Mrs. Patel, and I didn’t want to get involved. I wish now that I had taken it more seriously. It might have saved a lot of trouble later on.

#

“I tell you, there’s something dreadful happening.” That was Mrs. Doyle. “Did you see that new toilet that Bubba has? All those tubes and wires and dials and things. I don’t trust it. Do you?”

“I haven’t tried it out,” I said. “The bushes by the side of the road are good enough for me.”

“You mark my words, Stephen. That mechanical toilet of his is going to break down or worse, and we’ll all suffer for it. I’m thinking about just taking the next exit and going home before everything goes haywire.”

“You do that, Mrs. Doyle.” The next exit was half a mile away. It might take her a month to get there if things were good. “And I’ll keep an eye out for anything strange. Okay?”

“You’re a good boy, Stephen. Do you have any pork burritos left?”

I sold her a pork burrito, then rode off. By the time she started screaming, I was several cars away.

Actually, it was the crashing and the pounding I heard first. The asphalt shook under my feet in a steady rhythm, like a giant creature stomping my way. I looked around but I couldn’t see the source of the noise.

Not until I looked behind me.

It looked like some sort of giant mechanical monster. It stood taller than any of the cars on the intersection, even taller than some of the semitrucks. Copper tubing extruded from every surface of it like intestines, and it walked on long, thick, copper plated legs. Long arms swung out at random, striking at cars and people indiscriminately.

The sound from the thing was horrendous. It marched its way down the road toward me, and I finally recognized the cube on top of it. This was Bubba Handy’s shithouse, more complex than I had imagined, gone rogue and wreaking havoc.

“Stephen!” someone shouted. “Stephen, help!”

Bubba was running at me, panic deforming his thin face and elfish features.

“Bubba!” I shouted at him. “What the hell?”

“It started a few minutes ago. Shit, I must have put stuff in there that… I don’t know. I didn’t know the damn thing had legs!”

There were more flashing lights in the sky. Bubba and I both looked up. Two giant discs, copper and covered with twisting tubes just like Bubba’s shithouse, flashed colored lights from a ring of shining globes on the bottom. The hung so low in the sky I could see rivets and puffs of steam bursting from the tubes.

“Aliens,” breathed Bubba. He looked back at me. “They must have beamed the plans for the shithouse into my brain while I was passed out that one time. That’s why I didn’t even know what half of it was for.”

“That’s stupid,” I replied. “Why would they do that?”

“To invade. If they could get us to do their work for them, they’d have a much easier time when they colonized.”

The mobile shithouse was coming closer. “Come on, Bubba. We’ve got to get out of here.”

The next sound we heard was the sound of dozens of car doors opening at once. I looked around, perplexed. People all over had gotten out of their cars, and each person who had emerged held in their hands huge, evil-looking guns. They began to fire in different directions, apparently at random, bright beams of red light ripping through the air. The smell of ozone was suddenly overwhelming.

“Hold fire!” The voice came from directly to my left. I saw that I was standing next to the Patel car. Mrs. Patel stood beside the car, holding up a copper and steel cylinder. A long glass tube ran from the base of the cylinder, wrapped around her neck several times, then vanished into the back of her sari.

“What happened to her?” I asked.

“She’s the alien ambassador,” Bubba replied. “She’s gotta be. She probably didn’t even know what she was making, just like me.” He voice quavered. “I didn’t mean to, Stephen. I didn’t know I was going to be part of the alien invasion!”

I didn’t reply. Mrs. Patel was spinning in a slow circle, glaring at the others who held the deadly-looking weapons. “You can’t just shoot at random,” she said in a loud, firm voice. “You need a plan. Our masters demand it. Plus, you might destroy the drone!”

“Masters?” I muttered. “Drone?”

“She means the aliens in the flying saucers. And the shithouse must be the drone.” Bubba took a trembling breath. “Do you suppose this is happening all over the world, or just here in Sacramento?”

I had no idea. It seemed to me like an inefficient way to take over a planet, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone, alien or human, would be at all interested in Sacramento. It was a big city, true, with some of the fastest moving traffic in the entire country, but it was not a center of government or industry or food production or defense, or anything like that.

“Everyone!” shouted Mrs. Patel, “Now, do as I command. Fire in a circle, and don’t hit the drone. We don’t have a lot of time to do this.”

Behind me, the rogue shithouse stomped again, with a sound of crushing metal and screaming men and women. I heard a high pitched whirring noise coming from the thing, and then a bolt of blue light shot out from the tube on the side that Bubba had pointed out to me earlier. The beam hit one of the larger trailer trucks, a green truck with the letters “CWE” painted in large white letters on the side. The truck glowed bright orange for a moment, long enough for the driver to leap out of the cab and onto the ground, before vanishing without a sound, leaving a cloud of dust behind.

“Holy shit,” Bubba said.

“Bubba, you made that thing. You have to have some idea of how to stop it.”

“I haven’t got a clue. I wish I did. I’d point that gun right at the sky and blow those damned flying saucers the fuck up.”

I looked up again at the discs in the sky, then back to the shithouse again. Bolts of red light from the guns flared over us, missing us by mere inches. None of the bolts of energy went close to the shithouse.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get over there. Surely we can do something.”

Bubba looked at me with his eyes wide and his jaw down to his chest. Then he shrugged. “Yeah, all right. I think we’re all doomed anyway.”

I clambered off my bicycle and the two of us ran toward the rogue shithouse. Around us people panicked, hiding inside their cars or running toward the sides of the road. Mrs. Patel’s army fired in all directions. They were bad shots on the whole, but just the same they managed to bring down a dozen or so innocent people.

We had only gotten about halfway there when Robert Tinker stepped out from behind a yellow Datsun pickup truck. He didn’t have one of the huge weapons in his hands like the others did; instead, he had smaller weapons, coil encrusted handguns, one in each hand. “I can’t let you get any further,” he said. “I can’t let you harm the drone.”

Behind us, the shooting continued. In front of us, the shithouse was stomping ahead, crushing cars under its weird elephantine legs. More beams of blue light shot from it, disintegrating more trucks. Its stride was uneven and swaying, like a giant mechanical four-legged drunkard.

“Robert,” Bubba said, “you have to let us get through. It’s destroying everything.”

Robert shook his head. “Our beloved masters won’t allow it. You may cause undue damage to the drone.”

I looked at Bubba. Bubba looked at me. Then he grinned. “I can handle this,” he said. “Go on and take care of it.” With that he grabbed a large chunk of metal, the remains of a bumper that had fallen off a car ages ago, swung it over him, and struck the side of Robert’s head.

“You bastard!” Robert snarled. He dove at Bubba, snarling. Robert was a brilliant merchant, but his inability to multi-task was legendary. As long as he was focused on Bubba, I could probably run past him toward the shithouse.

Bubba and Robert wrestled with each other. The scene was almost comical, the large tinker grappling with the tiny shithouse driver. But I didn’t stand around to watch. There was a world to save.

I ran toward the shithouse once more. When I heard a crack and sizzle behind me, I paused and looked back. Robert was standing over the prone body of Bubba Handy, both pistols smoking. “Your buddy’s dead!” Robert shouted. “And you’re next!” He charged toward me.

I ran. It seemed to me that I’d been running more on this one day than I ever had in my entire life. My legs burned, and my lungs felt like they were going to burst out of my chest. I’d spent so many years pedaling my heavy cart around, I would have thought that my legs could take this. I guessed that running used an entirely different set of muscles.

More cracking erupted behind me, and I felt the breeze of bullets flying close by. I ducked, and scuttled toward the shithouse. I wasn’t going to let Robert stop me.

The shithouse loomed before me, getting closer. I tried to find a way to grab onto one of the ungainly legs, while Robert’s shots whizzed past me. It should have been easy, what with all the tubes and protuberances that covered the limbs, but it still seemed like an impossible climb. The fact that the things were all moving made it seem even more impossible.

“Stop right there!” Robert’s commanding voice sounded from behind me. “You’re dead, Stephen!”

The shithouse was closer to me now. I looked back at Robert, who had both of his pistols aimed at me.

Now or never, I thought.

One of the shithouse’s giant legs swung past me. I jumped toward it and grabbed one of the tubes. I found a solid grip and hung on, trying not to fall.

Above me, the disintegrator whined up into power again, and another shot of intense blue light shot forth, leaving a bright red afterimage in both of my eyes. I saw that the weapon moved on a complex system of turrets and wheels and gears.

“Dammit, Stephen, don’t make me kill you!” Robert roared. “We’ve been buddies for years!”

“Until you started shooting at me and killed Bubba!” I called back. I found another hand hold and climbed up the leg again. The smell of the thing struck me at that moment; it was definitely powered by the excretions of dozens of people. Puffs of black smoke blew out from an exhaust pipe on the rear end of the shithouse.

I heard another cracking behind me, and the metal near my hand burst into a small cloud of smoke and shards. Pain shot through my hand as shrapnel from the tiny explosion dug into my fingers.

“Dammit, Stephen, look what you made me do! I damaged the drone!”

“I don’t care!”

I took another step up the leg. My hand throbbed. The swaying of the leg made me dizzy, and I could feel my stomach lurching.

“Oof!” Robert said.

The shithouse had stomped its way past Robert by this point. I looked back, and saw that Bubba — his left arm reduced to a smoking stump and his hair singed — had jumped onto Robert, and had wrapped his remaining arm around the larger man’s neck.

Robert’s pistols fired randomly; puffs of smoke and exploding metal burst from cars and trucks near me.

“Go Stephen!” Bubba shouted. “I’ll take care of this prick myself!” Robert tumbled and fell underneath Bubba. Bubba laughed, despite what must have been tremendous pain in his arm, and began to kick wildly.

“The drone!” Mrs. Patel shouted. “Protect the drone!”

Beams of red light from the giant guns that Mrs. Patel’s team held burst all around me. For a moment I gripped the handle I clung to, and squeezed my eyes so tight that colors swirled, awaiting the inevitable pain of being struck down by the firing guns.

No such pain ever came. I opened my eyes, and looked around. They were firing in my direction to be sure, but they seemed to be deliberately missing me by several feet.

Then I realized it wasn’t me they were deliberately missing. It was the shithouse. The drone. They didn’t want to damage the drone.

Fueled by the knowledge that I was safe as long as I clung to the shithouse, I began climbing upwards again. It wasn’t far to the door with the weapon attached to it. As the red bolts of light fired past me, I clambered upwards, feeling confident that I could make it easily.

The weapon above me whirred into life again. I hadn’t learned from my earlier mistake, and I didn’t even look away when the bright blue bolt poured forth, disintegrating another automobile. My eyes burned with the brightness and the entire world went red. For a moment, I thought I had been blinded, until I saw that the red was receding from my peripheral vision, leaving bright streaks in front of me. I couldn’t see through the afterimage. But I wasn’t totally blind.

I reached the weapon, trying to see clearly through my peripheral vision. I gripped the tube, wincing as I felt that it was fiery hot. I couldn’t worry about that, though. My hand was probably already doomed anyway.

The tube of the weapon moved surprisingly easy on its turrets and wheels, and I found I could move it in any direction I wanted. So I aimed it directly upwards, trying to align it, using the little bits of vision that I had, with the closer of the flashing discs above us. Then I waited for it to fire again.

“Kill him!” Mrs. Patel shouted. “He’s going to destroy the mother ships!”

More red beams flashed past me, and this time I realized that protecting the flying saucers above us was more important to Mrs. Patel and her army than protecting the drone. I swore and I held onto the weapon with my right hand and clung on the shithouse with my left.

Finally, the weapon whirred up again. I felt the metal growing warm. I closed my eyes in time as the beam shot forth once again. When I looked up again, the flying saucer I had aimed at had vanished. A cloud of blue dust hung suspended where the alien ship had once been.

Mrs. Patel screamed. “Destroy the drone!” she shouted. “Take it down!”

The shithouse had stopped moving. I twisted the weapon around until it was pointed at the other flying saucer. I hoped that taking out the first one had not destroyed the capability of this drone; otherwise, the weapon might not fire at all.

But then the weapon’s copper tube grew warm again, and the whirring noise sounded. I closed my eyes again.

As the blue beam fired, my entire world went red as pain exploded from the middle of my back and spread throughout my body. Shocked by the sudden agony, I loosened my grip on the shithouse and fell backwards to the street. I felt my head slam into the asphalt, and the world went black.

#

“Stephen,” said a voice.

“Mom?” I asked. I tried to open my eyes, but they felt glued shut. “Is that you?”

“No, sweetie, it’s Mrs. Doyle. Can you move?”

I tried to move my arms and legs. I was expecting to find that I was paralyzed from the shot I had taken to my back. When I could feel my feet and hands move, I was shocked.

“I can’t see,” I said.

“Your eyes are fine,” another voice said. I recognized it as Bubba’s. “Just covered in gunk. You hit your head and bled all over the place.”

I reached my hands to my face and rubbed my eyes, breaking off scabs and what not, and soon I could open them and look around.

Bubba and Mrs. Doyle leaned over me. The stump of Bubba’s arm waved as he smiled at me. “You did it, buddy. You destroyed both the flying saucers. And when you did, everything stopped.”

“I think that it was just good luck,” Mrs. Doyle said. “You blew up the second flying saucer just as James Patterson fired at you with that weird gun of his. So I think you got a lower charge. Anything more and you would be paralyzed for life.”

I furrowed my brow at her. “How do you know that?”

“Please. I studied electrical engineering at MIT.”

“You never told me that,” Bubba accused.

“I never thought you needed to know.”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “What about Mrs. Patel? And all the other people that the aliens were controlling? And Bubba, how come they didn’t take over your mind too? You built that shithouse for them.”

“They’re all fine,” Mrs. Doyle said. “They don’t remember anything about what happened. But they’re all feeling properly guilty, and Mrs. Patel is in charge of cleanup duty. Hopefully this mess will all be cleaned up soon, and we can start moving again. The good news, though, is that there are a lot fewer cars on the highway now. I expect we’ll be able to speed up again any day now. Maybe a whole two miles this week.”

“And I don’t know why they couldn’t take me over,” Bubba said. “I have a theory, though. I think it was all the pot I’ve been smoking all my life. They could beam the plans for the shithouse into my brain, but when they tried to take me over, well, I was just too stoned.”

I had to laugh at that. “Too stoned to take over the world, huh?”

“You know it.”

I looked down at my right hand. With its deep cuts from the shrapnel and the horrific burns on my palm, I wondered if I would ever be able to use it again. “So what happens now?”

“Well,” said Bubba, “I’m going to build a new shithouse. One that aliens can’t take over and turn rogue. I’ve already got my eye on a little wooden shack I found near the camp yesterday.”

“And as for me,” said Mrs. Doyle, “I could really go for a pork burrito. So if you’ve got one handy, I would be really grateful.” She pointed to the left.

I looked over and saw my cart and bicycle. Somehow, during the whole incident, they had managed to stay intact, untouched by any of the chaos. I shook my head in wonder.

“Coming right up, Mrs. Doyle,” I said. “Coming right up.”

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