by Phil Geusz
©2006 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved
-= 1 =-
There was nothing like the view from a cockpit over the ocean, I decided as I sat back in my co-pilot's seat. Everything in sight was blue and beautiful, except for a single brownish storm cloud many miles ahead.
"Leveling off at angels twenty," the young pilot sitting to my left muttered into his oxygen mask. His real name was Charles something-or-other, but his flight helmet had "Wanderer" painted on it in gray letters just barely discernable against the dark background color. He went by the nickname. "Course one-eight-zero, airspeed five-one-oh knots."
"Roger," Pensacola Tower replied. "You're right on time, Ghost Number Two. Track One has your transponder five by five. Suggest you begin building up internal pressure for test sequence 'A'."
"Copy," he answered, turning to me and smiling gently. "I'll never live this down, you know."
"You get used to it," I replied, not smiling back. Far too many people took my job as something of a joke, despite its very real importance. "And my internal pressure is just fine. I ate three salads for lunch. I'm ready to start whenever you are."
"Right," Wanderer agreed, looking away in disappointment. The young man was flying the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber alone, since I was occupying the right seat. Wanderer was the squadron's junior pilot. Almost any flier would leap at the opportunity to grab a little 'stick time' in the Spirit under ordinary circumstances. But not for this mission. "Pensacola Tower," the pilot declared, keying his mike. "Track One. We're going undercover. I repeat, we're going undercover." Then he reached out a finger, and flipped a switch on his instrument panel. "That kills our transponder," he explained unnecessarily. "If everything is working right, we're invisible now except by eyeball. At night, we'd be totally undetectable."
"You're in undercover mode, Number Two," agreed Pensacola Tower. "Be advised that all airspace in your vicinity is clear. Conditions are CAVU, except for the storm that lies directly to your south. Give it a wide berth; we've had reports of strong turbulence."
"That's amazing, Ghost Number Two!" a new voice added. Presumably it was someone from Track One, an AEGIS cruiser we were planning to overfly. AEGIS cruisers carried some of the most sophisticated radar suites in the world; the Air Force was serious indeed about testing my new gear. "One second you were there, the next you weren't!"
Wanderer smiled but did not answer. When we were in 'undercover mode', our Spirit maintained full radio silence except in cases of dire emergency. "You can get on with it any time you like," he suggested gently. "If you're ready, that is. The sooner we get started, the sooner we can head back home."
"Oh, I'm ready all right," I agreed, opening up my trusty field kit. It had served me well for many years now, aboard everything from space station mockups to ocean liners and, now, the world's most sophisticated and expensive aircraft. Carefully I removed a fresh packet of my favorite sanitary paper. It was hand-made of the softest materials, and treated with several soothing herbs including aloe. "I've been ready almost since takeoff. But we had to get out to sea, for the radar."
Wanderer nodded, turning away slightly to grant me some privacy. "Good luck. All kidding aside, I sure hope this damned thing works. It'd make my life a lot more pleasant."
"I hope so too," I agreed, loosening my harness a little. Spirit pilots often flew missions of twenty-four hours or more; until the Air Force had consulted the world's leading exert on commode design (that being me), its pilots had been forced to wear what amounted to dirty diapers into battle. They didn't seem to leak, but there was little more to be said for them beyond that.
"All right," I reported eventually, reaching down between my legs and, with an adroit wriggle, tearing open the special g-suit flap that I'd designed. "Hold her as steady as you can."
"Roger," Wanderer agreed.
My attention was totally taken up by the task at hand; utilizing what the Air Force insisted on referring to as a 'pilot relief tube, Mark One, Stealth' was as potentially dangerous as flushing the toilet in a guided missile sub. Very cautiously I rose up a little on my heels and one hand, avoiding any interference whatsoever with the stick or rudder pedals, and slid the little door aside. "Relief tube engaged," I reported, as per doctrine.
"Acknowledged," my pilot reported formally.
Then I turned a little thumbwheel built into my right armrest. There was a hissing noise, which grew louder and louder. "We're losing cabin pressure," my pilot warned.
"We're supposed to, at this stage!" I countered, bristling a little.
"I know, I know," Wan replied, his voice a little uneasy. "I guess I'm just a little antsy." He nodded towards the cockpit window. "Look up ahead."
I glanced upward, even though just then I had no attention to spare for trifles. The storm ahead of us was growing; it now filled half the sky, and ugly yellow bolts of lightning flickered around the brown clouds. "Perhaps we should abort?" I suggested. "I'm no flier, but..."
Wanderer pressed his lips together behind his mask. "No," he replied. "Not yet. Have you any idea of how much it costs to loft one of these birds? Then there's the cruiser's time, too." He frowned. "Just hurry. Please."
I nodded, then sat down just as firmly as I could on my seat and cinched my harness up tight again. The suction was tugging at my butt cheeks now. Soon things would begin to happen, I told myself, letting my head fall back and thinking brown thoughts.
Then, it was all over in an instant. My internal waste fell free and was sucked down the long titanium pipe back towards the high-bypass turbofans that were pushing us along at hundreds of knots. This was the critical moment, when the fecal matter would be introduced into the exhaust of number two engine. Would it be flash-burned to nothing in an instant, as predicted by all of my computer models? Or would there be sufficient residue to momentarily give away our location to the AEGIS cruiser lurking below?
I crossed my fingers and pictured my feces skidding through the titanium lines I'd designed with such care, keeping things as straight as possible yet still having to introduce a maddening number of bends in order to avoid items that the Air Force considered, for mysterious reasons of their own, to be more important than the relief tube. The elongated cylinder of human waste bounced and skidded in my mind's eye, twirled and danced its way to the back of the plane. "Now!" I estimated, just as I pictured my bowel movement hitting the huge turbo-fan, and hopefully being blasted into non-radar-detectable dust. Both Wanderer and I stared for a time at the radio; nothing came through.
We'd succeeded! The AEGIS cruiser hadn't picked up the falling feces! Stealth bomber pilots could indeed relieve their bowels in mid-flight, undetected and undiapered!
"Hooray!" I exclaimed, bouncing up and down vigorously on the toilet seat; the suction would not let me break contact. "Hooray! It worked! I'm a good engineer!" The warm glow of success filled my newly-emptied gut.
"It seems to have," Wanderer agreed, though he seemed far less worked up about it than I was. Which was natural, I supposed, since he had far less at stake in the matter. Had I failed, dozens of other sanitary engineers from all over the world would have been vying for the contract within hours, each vying to dethrone me as king of the water closet. Suddenly the plane banked hard to the left. "Let's head for home and call off the rest of the test program," he suggested. "I don't like the looks of the weather at all."
My attention had been wholly focused within the cockpit for some time. When I raised my eyes, the world seemed to consist of nothing but a huge brown cloudscape rushing by. My heavens, the storm had grown quickly!
Wanderer reached out and switched the transponder back on. "Pensacola Tower," he began. "This is Ghost Number Two. We are aborting the mission. I say again, we are aborting the mission. The weather is becoming unacceptable. That storm is gaining intensity like nothing I've ever seen before." The plane trembled, first gently and then as if it really meant it. "Don't even try getting off that pot," the pilot added, looking across at me. "Don't loosen those straps for a second. Got me?"
"Roger, Ghost Number Two," the radio responded as I nodded in agreement.
"It's getting really nasty in a hurry," the voice of Track One added. "...blame you... fly... conditions..."
Our turn away from the storm was complete; Wan leveled us off smoothly on a course of zero degrees, due north. There were still brown clouds ahead of us, though perhaps not as thick as they were to the south. He tapped at the radio in irritation. "Jesus!" he muttered. "That thing is supposed to keep right on working in the heart of a nuclear war, with h-bombs going off all around!"
I nodded slowly. "This is bizarre," I added, watching a yellow lightning bolt arc from cloud to cloud, dead ahead. The whole sky was churning now, in every direction.
"You get sudden storms in the Caribbean," my companion replied, sounding not altogether convinced. "They grow fast."
Then, just as Wan was enunciating the last word, it was as if an elevator cable broke. We roared downwards almost to the wind-whipped waves, then went surging upwards so hard that I almost blacked out.
"Jesus!" Wanderer declared. In seconds we found ourselves careening all over the sky, standing first on one wingtip and then the other, all of our instruments dead and black, brown clouds and pale yellow lightning surrounding us in all directions.
"...shear... magnetic.... vortex... electrical power..." the radio declared between loud bursts of static.
But Wan and I were too busy fighting for our lives to care much about the radio. Wanderer fought the stick like a wild thing, growling to himself deep down in his throat as the yellow lightning flickered all round. I was totally lost, unable to determine up from down any longer, bare buttocks pressed against hard, uncaring metal.
Suddenly we were sucked upwards by a violent updraft and raised spinning high, high, high over the dark Caribbean, our huge bat-shaped aircraft no more able to influence its own destiny than a scrap of paper in a Texas whirlwind. We rose tens of thousands of feet, so high that I had to adjust the thumbwheel of my toilet in order to avoid being sucked down through the piping and out the number-two engine. Then, at the very top of the vortex we spun two last lazy circles...
..and emerged, flying straight and level, into the eye of the storm. We were in the middle of a globe of clear air, placid and calm as could be. There was a great sphere of brown all around us, crawling with lightning, and I noticed that it was all flashing in synchronization. "Look!" I observed, pointing. "It's like a wave! First it rises a quarter way up the clouds. Then halfway, then three-quarter..." Instantly, just as we approached the absolute geographic center of the eye of the storm, I put it all together. "No!" I warned Wan. "Break left! Break left!"
But it was too late. In synchronization the whole storm seemed to heave and convulse, and then all the lightning bolts in the universe hit us.
-= 2 =-
The flash was blinding; even weeks later when I closed my eyes I could still see the image of my little pack of sanitary paper hanging spectrally before me, the outline of my outstretched hand just a few centimeters short of securing the precious stuff. Everything went black for an impossible-to-measure moment after that, as if reality itself were interrupted. Then we were plunging earthwards nose-first in a clear blue sky, screaming our lungs out.
"Aaaaah!" I cried out. My anus felt as if it were the focal point of ancient and unimaginable forces suddenly unleashed; something was tying knots in my intestines, it felt like, and they were using red-hot fingers to do it.
"Aaaaah!" Wanderer echoed, still yanking at his stick. It was useless; the controls might as well have been cast in cement, for all it that he was able to manage. "The engines are out!" he was eventually able to cry out. "We've no power at all!"
My jaw worked in a dry heave; my stomach was about to explode, and for a moment it could not seem to make up its mind which way to erupt. Then, thankfully, the eruption directed itself rearwards, and I felt red-hot liquid pouring through me with incredible force. "Aaaah!" I continued in much the same vein as before, though now with far better reason. My guts felt as if they were in a wringer. "Aaaaah!"
"Wait a minute!" Wan exclaimed. "We're getting a little thrust from somewhere..." He screwed up his face in concentration, and tried easing back his stick. "Just enough, maybe..."
My thighs and belly were straining against the seatbelt now, I was trying to rise from my seat, the force upon my rectum was so great. "Aaaaah!"
"I can't figure it out!" Wanderer exclaimed, pulling the aircraft nearly level. There was a shoreline ahead, a long level stretch of beach. "Brace yourself!" he ordered, reaching down and lowering the gear. "I'm going to try for an emergency landing.
The pressure within me was unending, unlimited, unstoppable. The internal explosion went on and on and on; I couldn't imagine where it was all coming from. "Ghost Number Two!" the radio squawked. It was the AEGIS cruiser. "Ghost Number Two! You're losing altitude rapidly, and trailing some sort of a brownish-colored cloud! Are you all right?"
Wanderer neglected to answer; instead he concentrated on his stick and rudder, doing all that he could to land the two-billion-dollar aircraft safely. The narrow beach was deserted. Probably, everyone had left due to the storm. Then the pressure inside me subsided, and I felt the jet of watery fluid emerging from my buttocks first weaken, and then die away to nothing.
"We're losing power again!" Wanderer complained. "It's here or nowhere!"
"Here" still looked too narrow to accommodate the Spirit's wingspan, but it was Hobson's choice. I felt my lips peeling back from my teeth in terror as I clutched the still-unused packet of sanitary paper in my right hand. We fell, fell, fell from the sky...
...and then we were rolling down the beach, bouncing for hundreds of feet at a time off the various irregularities and hillocks. There was a little cabana ahead, our large nosewheel crushed it to splinters without us even feeling it. "I can't brake," Wan explained, his eyes locked dead ahead as he worked his rudder pedals back and forth. "If I do, we'll ground-loop for sure! And there's no thrust to reverse!"
Finally the beach swung left, but our B-2 could not. We rolled across back yards, then, crushing swingsets and fences by the dozen. Then we crossed a little road, fortunately one that bore no traffic at the time, and ended up in a little grove of orange trees still in full bloom.
"Jesus!" Wanderer declared as our bomber finally rolled to a stop amidst the shattered orchard. "Jesus Christ almighty!"
"Yes," I agreed. There was a long moment of silence, and then finally, at long last, I was able to take care of a task grown most urgent.
The special paper felt cool and soothing indeed against my abused sphincter.
-= 3 =-
The jet age is wonderful; it took only a few hours to get back home to beautiful Cleveland. While I maintain a radical bachelor's flat in the stylish uptown area, my twin brother Ferdinand still lived in the home that he and I grew up in. I rang the familiar doorbell and waited.
"Hank!" my mirror-image greeted me; he was by three minutes the younger of us. Then he looked more closely at my pale, tense features and the Air Force-issue coveralls I still wore. His eyes narrowed. "Is everything all right, Hank? Did something go wrong on your testing job?"
I sighed. Ferd was not just my brother; he was my proctologist as well. "You might say that," I admitted slowly.
"How bad is it?" Ferd demanded at once, stepping around me and examining my buttocks. "Should we head for the clinic, or do you need an emergency room?"
"The clinic is fine, Ferd," I explained, raising a weary hand in dismissal. "I'm not bleeding or anything. I've just had... a strange experience, is all. I'll tell you about it on the way."
By the time Ferd had me lying on my side on his examination table, he was as eager to find out what was going as I was. "You say the Air Force people never examined you properly?" he demanded.
"No," I explained. "They gave me a complete physical and such; it's standard procedure after any sort of crash landing. But nothing more, ah... Penetrating."
"Gotcha," Ferd agreed, while eagerly oiling up the head of his Sigmoid. It was clear that he could hardly wait to begin his investigation.
He began with tactile stuff, and right away he hit paydirt. "My God, Hank!" he whispered, staring at my bottom. "I've never seen such sphincter development in all my life! The muscles are like tool-steel, and the surface of the anus itself feels like a steel-belted radial!"
My eyebrows rose, though of course my brother could not see. "I don't feel any different. Are you sure it wasn't like that before?"
"Quite sure," my brother replied, poking and prodding in wonder. "After all, yours used to be identical to my own. And how could a man not know what his own anus looks like?"
"True," I agreed, conceding the point.
Then it was time for the Sigmoid; I felt a familiar cold sensation, and then my brother was peering intently at a tiny TV screen. "Normal," he muttered, penetrating deeper and deeper. "Normal, normal, normal... That is, if you call a steel-reinforced titanium-lined asbestos-coated colon normal."
I sighed, and rolled my eyes.
"There!" Ferd finally called out excitedly. "There! And there!"
"What?" I finally asked, loosing my patience.
"Hold still," Ferd instructed. "Just wait right there, and I'll push the TV screen around."
He did so, and my mouth dropped open. Instead of a normal, healthy pinkish tunnel, the little device's single headlight revealed a veritable labyrinth of side-tunnels joining up with the same passage. "And watch this!" Ferd continued excitedly, twirling his controls and making me feel faintly nauseous as he drove his camera up a side-branch. The path ended in a sort of dead-end, but not. There were strange growths there, polyps that seemed at one moment to have too many dimensions, and at the next too few. The human eye was repelled by the sight, or perhaps it was the human mind. At any rate, both Ferd and I had to turn away in a second or two.
"Is... Is... Is it cancer?" I finally managed to stammer out.
"Oh, no!" Ferd replied, grinning like a child. "Not at all! In fact, it looks like something I saw in last month's edition of Human Waste Journal."
"What?" I asked.
"Something that Dr. Nelson Frobbe is looking into," he exclaimed, eyes alight. "He's working in a brand-new field, quantum manures. He thinks that somewhere close alongside our universe is a Platonic alternate plane of existence, where the excreta-ideal actually exists as a dimensionless, limitless reality. His theory is that, at various key points in history, our world and that one have intersected. Even life itself, he believes, may have its origins in such a fertile collision of realities. And..." His smile widened. "He postulated that structures much like those now found in your colon might be capable of transcending the interuniversal rift."
"I... I..." At first I didn't know what to think, or say. "The storm clouds were brown," I whispered. "I've never seen anything like them."
He nodded. "And you said the lightning was a golden color, as well. It was a most unusual storm, according to your description. Well inside the Bermuda triangle."
I nodded again. All serious scientists knew how strange and mysterious the Bermuda Triangle was. "Then maybe..." I looked into the TV screen once again, this time in awe. "Then maybe..."
"Maybe you've received a wonderful gift," my brother continued, smiling. "An ability to access another universe, and tap its sole, unlimited resource." A single tear glistened as it found its way down his cheek. "If only... If only..."
I sighed and patted my brother's hand lovingly. Our parents had been killed in an auto accident when we were eighteen, and Ferd had been in the back seat. Up until then he had been the bright one, the one destined to follow my mother's family tradition and lead the world in commode design. But, tragically, he had been rendered incontinent by the same collision that had killed Mom and Dad; I often wondered who had been the more unfortunate. After all, how could one be a proper commode engineer if one could not even do one's own testing? "It's all right," I whispered gently, finally taking my brother's hand gently and squeezing it between my own as the Sigmoid, untended, twisted and writhed gently within me. "It wasn't your fault. You've found an honorable career in the family tradition, Ferd, helping those badly in need of relief. You'd have been a far better commode engineer than I am, if only you'd had the chance."
He bent over me, then shoulders shaking as he wept in frustration. "I try," he whispered. "Oh, how I try! But every day, Hanky, every day I ask myself where you're at and imagine what wonderful new toilet designs you must be working on. And then, I look around at my pathetic little office and my tiny little practice, and --"
"Hey, now!" I countered, speaking as sternly as I was able. "Hey! You're doing fine. Mom and Dad would be proud of you. And you know it!"
"Maybe," he said, straightening up and adjusting his diaper a little. "Maybe. But you're a superstar, Hank. Everyone in the field envies you." He sighed, and began withdrawing the Sigmoid. "When we're done here, I'll dig up Doctor Frobbe's address for you. Then, I'm going to send a few pictures of your new colon out to some very discreet friends of mine. They'll pass them on anonymously. Maybe another, more highly-skilled proctologist will know more than I do."
He smiled tiredly. "By tomorrow, I predict, or the next day at the latest, yours will be the most famous colon in the world!"
-= 4 =-
Dr. Frobbe's home and laboratory was located in Detroit, not too terribly far from my home. Since the stealth-commode project was clearly under suspension for the moment (though I was of course certain that my own work would eventually be exonerated in the crash) I had several days worth of unexpected free time on my hands. Therefore, I chose to enjoy a nice springtime drive my brown 1992 Ford Taurus. The car was aging; I was already spending far more in repairs than it would take to buy new. But still, there was just something about its rounded outline and deep mahogany color that made it feel very special to me.
It was afternoon by the time that I arrived in Detroit; school must have been out early, because groups of teenagers were standing around in clusters here and there, appreciating the beauty of my car with long, penetrating stares. Dr. Frobbe's home proved to be a little bit on the run-down side; it appeared to be an ex-gas station, located next to a vacant lot full of smashed furniture and liquor bottles, and several windows were boarded up. When I parked, there were all sorts of tiny crunching noises under my tires as an accumulation little glass containers of some kind were crushed. Apparently, Frobbe didn't entertain many visitors.
A group of inquisitive teenagers was sauntering up to investigate my Taurus more closely, but I really didn't have time to answer questions about my car as I usually did in such situations. So instead of waiting to greet them, I smiled and nodded as I crossed the sidewalk and briskly stepped past the rusted gas pumps to where Dr. Frobbe did his research.
"Hello?" I asked after knocking several times. There were several vehicles parked on the property; surely Frobbe was at home! "Hello?"
"Just a minute!" I heard a cultured voice reply. "I'm right in the middle of --"
Then, without any warning at all, there was a sort of dull roar, and the ground began trembling underneath me. The building's windows were nearly opaque with grease and grime; suddenly they were lighting up in flashes of yellow.
The same shade of yellow as the lightning I'd seen over the Bermuda Triangle!
"Dr. Frobbe!" I cried out. "Be careful! You have no idea of the power --"
Then the roaring intensified, and the lightning flashes became one continuous uninterrupted glow. There was a distinct odor of untreated sewage in the air, and I began backing away from the still-locked door. Behind me, the curious teenagers were running for their lives. "Dr. Frobbe?" I called out worriedly. "Nelson?"
Then it happened. According to my brother, it had been Frobbe's life dream to achieve unity between the fecal-universe and our own, and as I stood outside the door his vision became reality. There was a sort of low-grade explosion as a veritable ocean of brown, semi-liquid goo burst first through the windows, and then broke down the building's door and jetted out towards the street in square-cornered streams of filth. "Frobbe!" I cried out in anguish. "Frobbe!"
The building's walls were beginning to creak and groan from the effort of containing the interuniversal sewage geyser; it didn't seem possible that anyone could have survived the intense pressure and lightning. And yet, just then, a dripping brown figure dropped down beside me from the roof. "Get away from here!" he screamed. "Run for your life!"
I looked around me at the helpless, unsuspecting neighborhood; brown clouds were developing out of nothing and swirling ominously. Running, I decided, was the one thing that I could not do. "No!" I countered. "Are you Frobbe?"
"I'm his assistant!" the figure squeaked, and for the first time I realized that underneath the shiny brown coating he was a mere boy. "Run for your life!"
"The experimental gear!" I demanded. "The equipment that's creating the interuniversal leak! Where is it?"
"Around back!" the boy declared after the barest hesitation. "Up against the rear wall."
"Very well!" I declared, head held high. Already I could feel vague stirrings within myself, and I knew exactly what needed to be done. "Come with me!"
The pressure on the old building was increasing every second, and little leaks spurting at every joint. There was a veritable river of sewage running down the street now; my Taurus, I noted sadly, had been caught right in the main current and for the moment was still afloat perhaps half a block away. I felt a stab of pain at he sight; it had been such a wonderful car! The boy and I ducked and danced our way around the spurting leaks until, according to him, we were just opposite the point where Frobbe had set up his gear. "Right here!" the boy cried out, pointing with a dripping finger. "Right here!"
"Good!" I replied, turning around and squaring my backsides directly towards the white-painted brick wall. We were running out of time, I strongly suspected; it was just as well that I'd chosen that morning to don my Air Force coveralls with the special crotch-flap. I ripped away the velcro seals as the boy stared at me in wonder, bent over, took my aim...
...and let fly, just as hard as I was able. There was a crack as if a large artillery piece had been discharged, and my stool emerged as if from a cannon, easily penetrating the painted brick wall, and apparently doing severe damage to whatever lay beyond. For the yellow lightning ceased as if a switch had been thrown, and the ground stopped shaking as well. Even as we watched, the flow of sewage first ebbed, then petered out altogether. In the sudden silence, we could hear distant sirens.
"Yay!" Frobbe's assistant cried out, capering and splashing in the remaining puddles. "Yay! I've never seen anything like that!"
"Nor have I," I replied honestly. "Nor have I." Carefully I pulled a packet of soothing-herb sanitary paper out of my coverall pocket, did my business, and then resealed my crotch-flap. "In fact, I still don't really --"
"Come on!" the boy was urging, climbing through a window into the waist-deep guck. "Come on! We've got to find the Professor!"
My lips curled in revulsion, but the boy was right. I was just about to climb in after him when he re-emerged, dragging something large and lifeless after him. "Oh, no!" he was wailing. "Oh, no!" It was, clearly, the Professor's body. His brown eyes were wide and staring. Both the boy and I tried CPR, but it was to no avail. There was no response, and the sirens were growing closer.
It was instinct, really, more than anything else. "Let him go," I urged the boy as he sucked yet another mouthful of goo out of the Professor's choked lungs. "Let him go. It's too late for that now. The police are coming, and I don't know about you but I'd just as soon not be here to have to explain any of this."
The boy nodded and stood up, his face screwed up in agony. "But he was so good to me!"
"I know," I agreed, even though I really had no idea. "I know. But let's you and me go get in my car and -- damnation!" I cursed. "My car's been flooded!"
"We'll take my truck," the boy suggested.
"Good," I agreed. "Whatever. But let's get out of here!"
-= 5 =-
Even if I hadn't lost my Taurus, I quickly came to realize as the two of us waded around front, we would have had to make use of my new friend's truck anyway. The transuniversal fecal spill was much larger than I had appreciated at first, and all of the other vehicles in the area were buried hood-deep. Our planned escape vehicle, however, was literally designed for such situations. It was a 1940's vintage septic-tank pump-truck, complete with raised suspension and high-floatation tires for accessing difficult tanks in rural situations. The thing might well have begun life as a military vehicle, I decided as I climbed up the little ladder welded to the passenger side. Not only were all the truck's lines angular and mean-looking, but it was painted in a blotchy green-brown sort of color that might well once have been camouflage. Still, one could tell that it had been in civilian service for some time. A monstrous hood scoop had been mounted, for example, and no Army truck ever rode as high off the ground as this one did. Besides, there was a sign painted on the side of the truck's big storage tank. 'The Crapper', it read in big, bold letters. 'Number One in the Number Two Business.'
"This is some vehicle!" I commented to my new friend as we sat down next to each other in the plain, unpadded bucket seats. It looked to me as if the truck had been designed to allow the cab to be hosed out at need, which under current circumstances was a good thing. "My brother and I used to build models of septic tank service rigs when we were kids. But I don't recall ever seeing anything like this!"
"Dr. Frobbe bought it years ago," the young man explained as flipped switches and brought the complex instrument panel to life. "From a man who drove a truck just like it during the war, emptying latrines for General Patton's Third Army during his race across France. I've been fixing it up as a sort of hobby." His face lit up. "You ought to see the spinners!" he declared. "They are so cool! Finding them so big was, like, impossible."
"Spinners?" I asked, my face lighting up. I'd had a set of spinners on my Taurus; they'd tastefully highlighted my sedan's elegant lines. "My heavens!"
"When we get out of here I'll show you!" the young man declared. Then he stepped on a foot switch of some kind, and the huge motor began to turn over. "Rrr!" the starter declared slowly, testifying to the engine's high compression and displacement. "R-r-r-r!" Then suddenly the big block fired up in a barely-inhibited explosion of exhaust fumes, and a large stereo thrummed to life, it's deep thmupa-thumpa-thumpa accenting the engine's even deeper bass note very nicely, I thought. "Hold on!" the young driver declared, throwing the big lever that I suspected locked the truck into four-wheel drive. "Here we go!"
Getting out of the affected area was a breeze in the ex-military septic truck; though we struck submerged obstacles from time to time, our vehicle shook off the unexpected encounters with ease. The sewage-level dropped quickly, so that within a very few blocks there was only a foot or so the vile stuff in the streets. This was not even a challenge to our truck; my friend disengaged the four-wheel drive. "Just when I thought she was finally gonna get a workout!" he declared in disgust.
A veritable sea of blue flashers awaited us at the edge of the affected area; it was a roadblock! I pressed my lips together in concern, but my new friend was ready for the possibility. He reached up behind his sun visor and grabbed a pair of gray cloth hats, then tossed me one. "Here!" he declared, "Put this on. No one, I mean no one, interrupts a septic tank truck driver and his helper engaged in the performance of their vital duties."
I nodded and smiled slightly. Of course they wouldn't stop us! And so it happened; we pulled slowly and obediently up next to the leading patrol car, our massive still-revolving wheel-covers tossing up a fine brown mist. I rolled down the window. "We're full up, Officer!" I declared. "We have to dump this at an authorized disposal center before we can take any more!"
But the officer merely held his nose and pointed down the road. "Yech! Get that load of shit out of here, you moron!"
"Of course," I agreed, my smile widening. "Of course!"
And then we were through the police line and on our way.
-= 6 =-
I let my driver guide us onto the Interstate before annoying him with too many questions. Our sanitary tank was full, as it happened, and had been since long before the big spill. Jack, as I'd eventually discovered my new friend's name to be, tried to keep it that way at all times. "You get better traction with the weight," he explained to me. "Besides, folks are less likely to be tempted to steal a full truck." Still, however, the sloshing of our load made driving a full-time job until we steadied down on the straight, smooth highway.
"So, Jack," I asked as we roared down the road, chrome spinners spinning and rap music thump-thumping away. "How did you come to meet Dr. Frobbe?"
"He was our neighbor," Jack responded slowly. "Back when I lived out in the country. I used to play in his outhouse when I was young."
Jack was seventeen, I'd already learned. So the term "young" was in this case relative. "Where do you parents live?" I asked. "We probably ought to be headed that way. I bet they're worried sick about you."
"Don't have any," Jack replied, his peach-fuzzed features suddenly hard and mature beyond his years. "They joined the Peace Corps, and died of dysentery in Thailand last year. I've been with Doctor Frobbe ever since."
"I see," I replied gently. "I'm an orphan too, Jack. In fact, I was about that same age when it happened. I'm very sorry."
Jack looked over at me, his eyes big and soft and moist against the brown-stained flesh of his face. "Thank you," he answered softly.
"And now you've lost Frobbe, too." I shook my head, then made a sudden decision. "Why don't you come and stay with me for a little while, Jack? Until things settle down a little bit, and we can figure out what's what? I've got plenty of room in my penthouse."
"Penthouse?" he asked, eyes widening.
"Yep," I agreed cheerfully. "In uptown Cleveland. Take the next exit south, and we'll be there in no time. "
In addition to my penthouse, I also leased the entire sub-basement garage level of the building as a private work area. The door was big enough to accept even a truck the size of Jack's, and there was plenty of room to park. "Wow!" Jack declared, his eyes wide as he clambered down from the driver's side and gazed out over my workshop, taking in all my various cutting-edge commode projects in various stages of completion. "Wow! This is so... so..."
I smiled. "Sorry," I explained. "Perhaps I should have warned you. My name is Hank Flushman. Perhaps you've heard of me?"
Jack's mouth worked in silence several times before he was able to speak. "You?" he finally asked. "You're... I mean..."
"The very one," I answered with a sort of half-bow. "I'll show you around down here a little later, if you'd like." I fingered my rapidly-drying Air-Force issue coverall. "In the meantime, I've got a special shower down here intended just for little emergencies just like this one. Perhaps we can hose each other off first, then get to know each other a little better later?"
Jack insisted on washing me down first, once we were inside my custom-designed cubicle. "First, you select 'soap'," I explained quickly. "Then 'rinse'."
"Right," Jack agreed. "Just like a car wash. How utterly sensible!"
My coveralls were well designed, it appeared, and made of excellent materials. They cleaned up remarkably well under the warm high-pressure spray, so well that I decided to simply line-dry them when we were done instead of laundering them further. Then I put on a terrycloth robe, and it was Jack's turn. Almost immediately I ran into problems. "No," he said, suddenly reluctant to remove his own coverall. "I'll be all right on my own. Just hand me the spray-wand, and get out."
I closed my eyes and sighed. "Jack," I said slowly. "I assure you that your young male adolescent body, with its long, lithe limbs and sparse body hair, holds no interest for me."
"I know," he answered. "But... Well..."
Then something caught my eye. Jack and I had both removed our boots before entering the little booth. He'd left his socks on, however, which I'd considered odd but not totally out in left field considering what we'd recently gone wading in. Now his feet had gotten wet, however, and his "socks" were shiny and brown. I pointed. "What in the world?" I asked.
My young friend looked down, then blushed. "Well," he said slowly. "I guess I can't keep it a secret forever..." Then, moving slowly, the young man removed his coveralls, revealing that he was wearing a second, skin-tight garment underneath. "It's my TURD," he explained modestly, flexing his arms and legs so that the dried filth flaked off in large chunks, revealing the glistening brown surface underneath. "Thermal Undersurface Regeneration Device. Dr. Frobbe designed it for making septic tank and sewage line repairs from the inside, no draining necessary. It was one of his greatest secrets."
My mouth dropped open. The Thermal Undersurface Regeneration Device was one of the holy grails of the entire waste-management industry, a revolutionary cost-saving development often sought but never quite realized. Everyone knew, of course, that raw untreated sewage contained everything a man needed to live. But transforming theory into reality, however, was quite another story. I'd even chased the TURD-dream myself for a few months before abandoning it as unrealizable. Finally, I forced my mouth shut. "That," I said slowly, "is a real, genuine, working TURD?"
"Uh-huh!" Jack replied, his smile bright and cheerful now that there were no more secrets between us. He raised up his right arm and pinched a bit of the shiny brown fabric between the fingers of his left hand. "It's a permeable membrane," he explained. "With transmutational properties. When the hood is in place, I can remain submerged for several days or maybe even longer without having to come up. We've never tested it to the limits. It's powered by my body heat. That's the 'thermal' part," he explained. "Plus, by pure luck it's bulletproof, too."
"Frobbe was a genius!" I hissed, overcome with emotion. "An absolute genius!"
"Yes," Jack answered, on the edge of tears. "And he was such a kind, gentle man as well." He raised his eyes to meet mine. "This suit was his last gift to me," he explained. "He called me his little Bowel Boy when I modeled it for him the very first time."
"Bowel Boy," I repeated. Looking at Jack so proudly wearing his TURD, the phrase just seemed right somehow. "Bowel Boy."
Jack sighed and looked away, all cried out for the moment. "So, now you've seen everything worth seeing. You might as well spray me off, and then maybe we can get something to eat? I'm starved!"
-= 7 =-
We ate leftover frozen Texas-style chili for dinner, with large fresh salads for us both. The meal was perhaps half over when Jack spoke up. "I've shown you my truck," he said. "And my TURD. I've even told you about Dr. Frobbe's silly nickname for me. But you've hardly told me anything about yourself. How was it that you happened to be standing right at our front door when everything went wrong? And, well... That was some pretty fancy crapping I saw out there today!"
So I backed up and told him the whole story, in loving detail, from the time when I was three and a bee stung me. The boy's eyes glazed over repeatedly during the telling; he must have been very tired after such an exhausting day. I pretended not to notice, however, in order that the great arc of my narrative not be spoiled for him. "And so," I finished up eventually, "I find myself sitting right here, sharing a hearty repast with my newest acquaintance."
Jack snored once, then recovered. "I... see. So it all happened during that brown storm with the yellow lightning?"
"Yes," I answered modestly. "It did."
"And the lightning was the same yellow color as the flashes back at the laboratory." Jack's narrow brows knitted furiously as he stared down at the tabletop, thinking. Then his eyes rose. "Dr. Frobbe used to believe that crossing transuniversal lines would demand purity of spirit as well as technical skill," he said slowly. "He felt that the fecal universe would only consent to be tapped by a man of proper mindset, with the right belief-structure. Someone who understood fecal matter's proper place in the order of things. Frobbe always hoped to be the chosen one. But instead, it seems, it was you."
I felt my cheeks reddening. "I... Uh... I mean..."
"No," Jack continued, his gaze warm and steady. "There's a reason for everything; Dr. Frobbe taught me that, if nothing else. For everything! Therefore, there must be a reason why you were chosen, while he was found unacceptable. There must be!" Suddenly Jack was on his knees, head bowed. "Please," he urged me, TURD-gloved hands clasped tightly in supplication. "Accept me as your apprentice. Your assistant. Your slave, even. Anything! It was Destiny that brought us together, you see! Destiny!" His eyes glowed.
I sighed and turned away. While part of me was indeed wondering just exactly how much fun it might in fact be to keep an attractive young man like Jack as a personal slave, I quickly slapped down the unwelcome thoughts and tried to give him the answer he deserved. "You shall become my ward," I declared. "My son in all but name. I shall see to it that you are educated in all the mysteries of sewage treatment, wastewater management, and above all, commode design. If you work hard, you shall profit well from your education. Someday, you might well become the world's leading designer of commodes."
"I am not worthy," he moaned, groveling before me.
"Yes, you are," I answered, reaching down to help him up with a gentle smile on my face. "Now, arise and be welcome in your new home."
-= 8 =-
Jack and I meshed perfectly from our very first night together in my subterranean workshop. Via careful study of the hood of Jack's TURD, I was able to reverse-engineer the fabric. It was ridiculously simple, given a working model. Yet never in a thousand years would I ever have made the mental leap that had allowed Frobbe to grasp the basic principles. Indeed, I still privately considered the device to be his greatest intellectual triumph. By dawn I was wearing a pointy-capped TURD of my own, complete with special rear-access hatch. Because of slight variations in material composition before processing mine was a somewhat more golden shade of brown than Jack's. It worked, however. And that was the important thing.
Jack had napped a bit while I was telling him my life's story, and I was too excited to be ready for bed just yet. So, we decided to turn on the television for a while, and relax.
"...has broken out at the scene of yesterday's major sanitary sewer disruption," a female voice was saying as the set came on. Jack and I both leaned forward eagerly to hear more. The picture came on then, showing the character-filled Detroit neighborhood where we'd experienced so much excitement the day before. It was dark there now, however, and everything was lit up in shades of red and orange from the multiple burning buildings. "Looting and arson are widespread tonight, and National Guard troops are moving in to re-establish order." The camera shifted...
...and suddenly I was looking at Frobbe's old service station, from the rear! And, right before our eyes, someone wearing a mask and black trenchcoat was breaking in with an axe!
."..extensive damage," the woman's soothing voice continued as I Jack and I stared, incredulous.
"Oh my heavens!" I whispered. "I never thought of that!"
"Neither did I," Jack admitted. "I mean, if the universe-contact equipment were to fall into the wrong hands..."
"Right," I agreed, leaping to my feet and adjusting the hood of my TURD so that only my eyes and lower face was left uncovered. Then I made sure that I had several packets of custom soothing-herb sanitary paper ready in my little pouch. "There's no time to lose. Let's roll!"
-= 9 =-
Jack and I took turns sleeping during the drive back towards Detroit; it wasn't so hard on me, because commode-testing schedules could be quite demanding and I was well-used to surviving for days on small amounts of rest. But young Jack was clearly exhausted. He didn't even wake up as we recrossed the police lines, no one thinking to doubt us. "Watch out," the officer cautioned us. "There's still some gunfire here and there."
"Right," I agreed as I threw our big tanker truck into gear and began rolling unstoppably forward to the deep bass rap beat, which echoed and re-echoed among the abandoned houses. "Thank you, officer!" I was growing fond of rap music very quickly indeed; why had I wasted so many years of my life listening to nothing but disco?
The streets were still awash in sewage, though most of the yards seemed pretty clear. I drove directly to Frobbe's abandoned gas station, searching in vain for any sign of my faithful old Taurus along the way. No one seemed to be taking any special interest in the building, nor did it attract any special notice when I pulled the big tanker up into its usual spot.
"Jack?" I asked, tapping my new ward on the shoulder. "Jack?"
"Unhh?" he asked, blinking in the bright sun. "Where? I mean..."
"We're back in Detroit," I explained. "At Professor Frobbe's laboratory."
"Unhh!" he answered, sitting up and sounding a little more coherent.
I let him yawn and stretch a little before continuing. "I need your help. I don't know the layout in there."
"Right," Jack agreed, first rubbing his eyes and then dropping effortlessly down from his passenger seat onto the little parking lot. I followed a little more slowly, using the ladder.
We'd left Frobbe's body out back and, fortunately, someone had come and collected it. They'd left deep footprints in the sewage residue along the way, and there were more footprints near the window where we'd seen the looter on TV earlier that morning. The interior of the former gas station was almost impossible to recognize, in part because so much of what was there really shouldn't have belonged in a filling station in the first place. There was an upturned bed in the garage area, for example, as well as a half-crushed kitchen table and an unplugged hot plate. Jack led me directly to Frobbe's workshop, which was located in a larger, side-facing mechanic's bay. "Here," he said, pointing to a small, round hole in the wall. "That's where you did your thing. But all the shelves and everything on them are gone." He looked up at me. "There should be all kinds of electronic stuff here, plus three consecrated candles, two packs of playing cards, one of them a pinochle deck, and a stuffed sheep's head."
I nodded; all of these things were likely-enough components in a dimension-crossing device. "And it's all gone." I pointed around the room at the rest of the clutter. "Yet everything else is still here. It's clear that whoever took the machine knew exactly what he was looking for."
Jack nodded, then opened a cabinet. "Look!" he said, pulling out a suit made of what appeared to be shiny dark brown vinyl. "Here's Professor Frobbe's own personal TURD." My ward's eyes teared up. "If only he'd thought to wear it!"
I squished across to him in three long steps and clasped the boy around his narrow shoulders. "Now, now!" I countered. "There's nothing worse than might-have-beens."
Jack nodded. "I know."
I squeezed tighter. "He couldn't help being such a blind idiot," I comforted him further. "Imagine, opening a portal to a whole new universe packed with highly-compressed fecal matter, having something so miraculous as a TURD in one's closet, and then being too lazy to put it on! What a fool!"
Jack nodded again, then pulled away. "I'll be all right now," he sniffled.
"Good," I replied, glad to know that I'd been able to help. "Just remember that idiots always get what they deserve on the day that their luck runs out, and you'll be a much better commode engineer for it." Then, a new thought struck me. "He didn't take the TURD!" I pointed out. "Whoever looted this place didn't take the TURD!"
Jack shrugged. "He didn't know it was there."
"Right!" I agreed, suddenly hopping from one foot to the other in excitement, squish, squish, squish! "But he knew that he was dealing with an inventive genius, right? Or else he wouldn't have taken the dimension-crosser!"
"So?" the boy demanded.
"So..." I predicted smoothly. "He'll be back, whoever he is. Just to make sure he's gotten everything worth having."
Jack titled his head a little first to one side, and then the other. "Maybe," he allowed. "Or maybe not. But what if just tries to fix the dimension-crosser first? And succeeds?"
"Then life is really going to stink for lots of people," I answered, allowing myself to fall backwards into a sewage-soaked chair. The TURD was a wonderful invention, wonderful! I didn't feel even a trace of dampness. "If things happen that way, it'll be reported on the radio and we'll have a perfect excuse to go racing across country to the scene, blaring out rap music all the way." I smiled. "In the meantime, though, let's stake this place out. I have a feeling that our friend will come back after dark looking for more miracles. I know that I would!"
-= 10 =-
An afternoon can feel like forever when you spend it sitting in a sewage-soaked abandoned service station. Not much seems to happen at all, save for the continual drip, drip, drip and the slow movement of the shadows across the walls. Once Jack had moved the truck over to the next block so that no one would know we were staking the place out, there was very little to do. Carefully I removed a memo pad from my little pouch and wrote myself a reminder note to include the current wastewater professional periodicals among my essential supplies in the future. It was always so hard to remain current in such a rapidly-evolving, cutting-edge field.
It could have been worse, however. Jack and I were both still rather fatigued, so we took turns standing watch and napping in a back-room recliner chair that had somehow escaped being destroyed in the uproar of the day before. It was soggy and smelly, yes. But to the wearer of a TURD, it might as well have been a sweet-scented bed of feathers.
I was just nodding off during my evening "off-duty" rotation when suddenly Jack's voice awakened me. "Sure, Mr. Flushman," he was saying. "I can run out and get us Chinese. But... I mean... Do you think that even you and I ought to try and eat here?"
"Sure thing, kiddo," I heard my own voice reply. "Here's twenty bucks. Egg Foo Yung for me. Now, where did you say that backup control board was stored?"
My mouth dropped open for a second, then closed firmly. I should have known. "Ferd!" I called out angrily. "What in the world..."
"Hanky!" my twin brother replied. "Hanky! I... Oh, the hell with it!" And with that, he took off running.
It took me a few seconds to disentangle myself from the recliner, and then a little longer to climb back up onto my feet after slipping and falling in the treacherous muck. Jack's eyes were like saucers when I stumbled into the room. "I... He... You..." he stuttered.
"We're twins," I spat, barely slowing down. "Identical. If you want to know who's who, look for either my TURD or his diaper. Got it?"
"Never mind," I answered. "Go get the truck. Then find me." I nodded at the rapidly disappearing form of my brother. "I'll be chasing him."
"Got it," Jack replied, breaking immediately into a run.
My twin and I might have been born with identical musculature, but I had certain advantages on my side. For one, a TURD was a lot easier to run in than an apparently soiled adult incontinency napkin, which seemed to generate a lot of friction. And, secondly, my brother was wearing street shoes amidst the slime, while I had fully lugged construction boots on my feet. Still, though, he had quite a lead and while I was closing the distance rapidly, it looked very much to me as if he would get clean away. Or away, at least. "Ferd!" I cried out again. "Please! We can talk this out!"
"No we can't, Hank!" he answered back over his shoulder. "Please, turn around! I don't want to see you get hurt!"
I shook my head as I continued plowing through the muck. "Get hurt how?" I demanded. "You're the crazy one! That transuniversal setup is dangerous!"
But he just lowered his head and ran faster.
Soon my worst fears were realized as Ferd skidded to an uncertain stop alongside his lime green 1974 AMC Matador sedan. My brother had few vanities, but the beautiful classic car was one of them. "You'll never catch me now, Hanky!" he cried as he slipped effortlessly into the driver's seat. "So please don't try. Just this once, back off and let me be. I know exactly what I'm doing!"
"No!" I shouted back between great gulps of air. I was about out of breath, and still a good hundred and fifty yards away. Ferd's Red Cross Volunteer emblem was dangling from his mirror, I could see; so that was how he'd gotten through the police lines! He'd used his medical credentials; a proctologist could go practically anywhere a septic-tank servicing truck could! "You can't... know how... dangerous it is! Or else --"
But my brother didn't wait around for any more. Instead he cranked his big V-8 engine into life, goosed the throttle hard, and spun the smooth-lined Italian-designed vehicle around in an effortless half-circle, his rear tires spraying sewage-muck all over me as I came dashing up just two or three steps too late.
-= 11 =-
"He'll go back to Cleveland all right," I assured Jack as we roared down the interstate in hot pursuit of my twin. It had taken my young helper and I almost twenty minutes to find each other after Ferd had zoomed off. Two-way radios, I had scribbled on my little notepad. GPS units. Urgent. "Ever since the accident, he won't leave town if he can help it. Ferdinand hates traveling."
"What accident?" Jack asked innocently.
I sighed. "The big one," I explained. "The one where my parents were killed. That's why he wears a diaper, you see. He was in the car with them."
"Ah," Jack answered, nodding slowly as we passed a slow-moving tractor-trailer rig. Once we got in front of the trucker he rolled up his windows, then sped up again in an effort to get back in front of us; it was strange, how so many people we passed did exactly that same thing. Some them made rude gestures and cursed us too. That sort of thing hadn't ever happened at all when I was driving my Taurus, or at least not so that I'd ever noticed.
I sighed. "He really hasn't ever been the same since," I continued, thinking back over Ferd's last unhappy year of high school. "He's still plenty smart; don't get me wrong. After all, he made it through medical school, and has a fine reputation as a doctor today. But it's as if..." I sighed. "It's almost as if he gave up on life, once he lost control of his bowels. He never talks about it."
"It must be rough," Jack observed.
"Rough isn't the half of it," I countered. "He was supposed to be me, you see. He was supposed to be the great commode engineer, while everyone sort of expected me to stand aside like he has, and be content seeking a living in a much lower-status field. Ferd was always the leader; in fact, on the day of the accident I was working a summer job as a lowly rotary-sewer-cleaner operator while he was on his way with Mom and Dad to go see an 'Important Commodes in World History' exhibit at the Museum of Science and Technology in Chicago." I shook my head. "They never took me to see things like that, and that was just fine by me. I'd have been content to have been a proctologist or something else quiet and respectable, and let Ferd have the limelight all to himself. Really I would have! It was what I was raised to expect. And he's been a good brother to me, in all honesty. But..." I sighed again.
Ferd was never one to show much in the way of imagination, or at least he hadn't been since taking up the diaper business a second time as a near-adult. I couldn't decide whether he was more likely to be setting up Frobbe's machine at home or at his clinic. Finally I decided that he would take no chances with our ancestral dwelling. So, I directed Jack towards the Clinic.
It was dark by the time that we got there, pulling in smoothly beside Ferd's big Matador. I'd tried repeatedly to describe the car to my young friend on the way down, but had found myself at a loss for words. "So that's a Matador," he noted appreciatively as we took a minute to raise the hoods on our TURDs. I'd insisted that we take the precaution; anything could be waiting for us on the other side of the portal.
Apparently we were just in time; a sick yellowish glow was building up behind the heavy drapes in Examination Room Number Two as we raced up the short flight of stairs and onto the converted home's large covered porch. Room Two was where the Sigmoid was kept, I knew. Ferd had told me in private once that it was pretty much his favorite place in the word. The front door was locked, predictably. Jack stepped back as if to try and batter it down, but I waved him away. "Stand back," I commanded, opening the special flap in my TURD. "I'll take care of this."
My first shot was ill-aimed; it missed the lock, and served no purpose except to punch perhaps a two-inch diameter hole in the heavy wood and, probably, alert my brother to the fact that I'd arrived. My second shot was closer, but I'd not compressed my cheeks hard enough to sufficiently compact the stool, so that the result was merely a circular brown splotch on the door and much unfortunate splashback onto poor Jack. The third attempt did the trick, however, neatly blowing out the doorkob and lock. As Jack spluttered and dabbed at his face (he hadn't had his visor down) I resealed my flap and boldly strode in, making a mental note that I needed much more practice. "Ferd!" I cried out. "Ferd! Turn that thing off before you get us all killed."
"It's perfectly safe!" my brother cried out from behind the locked door of Examining Room One. "I promise, Hank! I've reversed the polarity, you see. It's a one-way gate. Do you think I'm crazy?"
"Maybe," I replied evenly, lowering my flap again. I didn't want to hurt or perhaps even kill my brother. But I didn't want to see another whole neighborhood reduced to septic chaos, either, or have to again guiltily evade the eyes of tired-looking sanitary engineers, like the ones I'd seen in Detroit, searching, searching, searching for a line-breach that simply did not exist. "Or maybe not. But one thing's for sure, and that's that a discovery of this magnitude belongs to no one man. Ferd, don't be a selfish fool! We have to turn this over to the proper authorities, for the good of all mankind! Imagine the consequences if you make even the tiniest of mistakes!"
The golden glow was intensifying now; there were faint flashes of increased brilliance from time to time. And, ominously, a faint wind was beginning to stir. "Hank!" I warned a second time. "You've seen my rectum, and you know what it can do! Open up, or I'll let fly!"
"You wouldn't dare!" he countered, his voice taking on a smug, nasty note that I'd never heard in it before. "You wouldn't dare risk all this irreplaceable equipment, or even injuring me. You're not make of strong enough stuff, Hanky! You're not the one who deserves to be gifted with superpowers!"
My eyes closed in pain. So it was like that, was it?
"It should have been me, Hanky!" Ferd continued, as a single tear made its way down my cheek. "It was supposed to be me! But one damn car wreck, and..." He made a sort of frustrated growling noise. "Well, this time it will be me, Hank! Me! I'm going to be the first to visit another universe!"
Visit another universe? I asked myself. What in the world... Then it all suddenly made sense, including Ferd's comments about reversing the polarity. "Wait!" I cried out in agony. "You don't have everything you need, Ferdinand! You're not wearing a TURD!"
But I'd already waited too long; perhaps my twin had been right about me being too soft to deserve superpowers after all. There was a great yellow flash...
...and then all hell broke loose! There was a great howling of wind, which first shattered a window, then sucked Examining Room One's door inwards as if it were made of paper. I was already half-squatted to open fire; instantly I was down and in rapid-fire mode, filling the air behind me with deadly projectiles in the hope of once again hitting and thereby shutting down the machine. But either the vortex was too much for my high-velocity stools or else my aim just plain stank; at any rate, everything was going right down a sort of spiral tunnel that was located right where the examination table should have been.
"Holy shit, Mr. Flusher!" Jack screamed into the hurricane; I hadn't noticed him coming in after me. "Holy shit!"
Then suddenly my feet were sucked out from under me and I was flying towards the whirlpool. The doorframe was still intact; I grabbed it with both hands. Jack started towards me, but I shook my head vigorously. "No!" I bellowed out, trying to make myself heard against the terrible wind. "No! You stay here! I'm going to try one last time to disable this thing, before it sucks our entire reality away!"
"Wish me luck!" I cried out, releasing my grip and smiling...
...while at the same time engaging rapid fire mode once more, sending a near-continuous stream of high-velocity rock-hard turdlets in the general direction of the arcane-looking universe-bridger as I was swept past it and into the vortex beyond.
-= 12 =-
I spent a long time free-falling through the spiraling blackness. Or spiraling brown-ness, more like; somehow, even in the complete absence of light, I knew that I was in a place that was indisputably and totally brown, and ever would be.
Eventually things actually grew boring, and I remembered something important. First I made use of some herbal-freshened sanitary paper, a moment of cool sanity in the midst of all the madness, and then I sealed up my rear flap against the rigors of who knew what was to come.
Reality, when it returned, came in the form of a brown-glowing portal. I fell vertically through the opening, splashing down feetfirst almost immediately in a sea of semi-liquid goo. I sank down so far that I lost track of where the surface was, then after re-orienting myself regained the surface with a few powerful strokes and shook my head vigorously in order to clear my visor.
"Stop that!" my brother demanded from somewhere nearby. "You're getting crap all over me!"
"Sorry," I replied automatically, spinning around in place as I treaded water that wasn't water in order to keep my head above the surface. Ferd was almost directly behind me, I soon realized. It took a major effort to half-turn my torso in the goo so that I could face him squarely. He was hard to see, even so. There wasn't much light, and what little there was seemed to be very odd in color, and to emanate from a point-source in the sky. Perhaps we were on a planet orbiting a brown dwarf?
Ferd sighed and shook his head. "You came after me," he said after a long time. "I can't believe that you actually came after me. You've ruined everything, you know."
I looked down at the brown surface just beneath my chin. Ferd was swimming in this gook without a TURD; how could he stand it? "It's too dangerous for you here," I explained again. "And it's too dangerous to the structure of two universes for me to allow you to stay. Come back with me!"
"Heh!" he snorted. "'Come back with me', my idiot brother begs. But we're both on the wrong side of a one-way door. A door that's closed entirely now, if you hadn't noticed." I looked up, and sure enough there was no sign of any kind of opening in the sky. He stared me in the eyes. "Have you thought about that little problem yet?"
I had, actually. But not until after I'd let myself fall through the gateway. Instead of admitting it, however, I simply remained mute.
"This whole universe was nothing but an infinity of sterile, lifeless fecal matter until just a few moments ago," my brother continued after a few moments. "A sort of manure-singularity, really." He smiled, his teeth still clean and white against his dark-stained face. "During my first few seconds here, before you came barging in, I was the sole sentient being anywhere so far as this universe was concerned." His smile widened. "The only thing that could think, feel, perceive. The sole creative viewpoint in a universe devoid of volition."
My jaw dropped. "You became god!" I whispered. "That was your plan all along! To become the god of the fecaverse!"
"Yes," Ferd replied, leaning back in the cold, semi-gelid matter and spreading his arms wide. "It was mine, all of it! I created light, then divided it from darkness by making crap-stars and crap-planets." He shook his head in amazement. "I was just getting around to developing some sort of ecosystem when you got here. It would have been quite challenging, given that the basic fabric of this universe continually reverts to sewage. But I'd have managed quite nicely, I'm certain. If, that is, you hadn't come and spoiled everything!"
I nodded sadly. It was all clear now, all so pathetically clear. My brother had set out to over-compensate for his incontinence on a literally divine scale. "But with more than one viewpoint present, you no longer hold a monopoly on self-awareness. Therefore, the fecaverse will no longer pattern itself upon your desires."
Ferd sighed and looked away. "It won't pattern itself on either of our desires," he responded. "Not now or ever again. There's only room for one in the God business, brother mine. Once you get past a single self-aware entity, all the magic stops working." Then his chin firmed up and he turned to face me squarely once more. "It's just a fecaverse, as you put it so poetically. It's not like anyone else would ever want any part of it. So why couldn't you have left me alone here, Hank? Why not? After I asked you not to follow me?"
"Damnit!" I countered, trying to swim a little closer but not succeeding. The semi-gel was very much like quicksand, though thankfully more buoyant. "I was trying to save you!"
"You were trying to deny me my godhood," he replied calmly, expanding his arms to include everything around him. "You were trying to steal all of this for yourself. Well, you can't take it away from me, Hank. I was the god of all solid and semisolid excretionary waste, if only for a few seconds, and all that you see surrounding us emerged from my mind, my essential inner being. While you..." His smile widened again, though it seemed very much colder than that of the Ferd I'd once known. "All you are is a two-bit superhero with an overdeveloped lower GI tract. That's all. Well, how does it feel, Crap-Man, to be stuck here with me in a world that I shaped? Where I am the important one?"
I shook my head in pity, then gazed outwards over the endless brown sea that lapped at my chin and extended featurelessly all the way to the horizon. If all of this had indeed emerged from my twin's mind, then he was badly in need of a spiritual enema. "Ferd," I said at long last. "You're not wearing a protective suit. You can't hold out more than a few hours."
"It's worth it!" he snarled. "To know that you'll die here eventually as well, after watching me go under. It's worth it, I say!"
"You'll die," I added. "Choking and gasping all the way down." I attempted to twist my face up in exactly the same cold, twisted manner my twin just had. "And then I'll die too eventually, brokenhearted at your death. Is that what you really wanted? Will you somehow feel better, choking and dying and knowing all the while what I'm going to have to go through, taking so much longer to die?"
Ferd turned away. "I didn't mean what I said," he answered eventually. "Not the part about you dying, I mean. I tried to talk you out of coming after me, but you wouldn't listen. And... Mom and Dad..."
I shook my head. Mom and Dad's very last words, according to Ferd, had been an injunction that we were to look after each other. "You've certainly done well by them, haven't you?" I asked, the acid in my voice very real this time. "A real honor of a son you've turned out to be!"
"You shut up!" Ferd screamed, his face turning so purple in rage that I thought he would have a stroke. "You just shut up, Hank Flushman! I'm worth a dozen of you! A hundred, even..." Then it was if someone let the air out of him; he sort of collapsed into himself, weeping. "It was all my fault," he whimpered, broken at last. "All my fault."
"Well," I answered, trying to sound reasonable. "You did steal Frobbe's invention. And then you-"
"No!" Ferd replied, holding up a brown-goo-dripping hand to stop my words. "Not that!" He looked down. "The accident," he hissed. "It was my fault."
My face froze in shock. "What? I mean, how..."
My brother shook his head very slightly from right to left. "I had to use the bathroom," he explained slowly. "I had diarhhea. Every few exits, we had to stop. It was making us late, and there was this one big exit that had lots of traffic and road construction. Dad asked me if I couldn't wait just a few more miles, because he thought it was a dangerous place to get off. But I... I... I..."
Suddenly Ferd was weeping, and somehow we found ourselves in each other's arms. "We tried to get back on," my twin continued. "And a truck full of natural fertilizer..."
"Shhh," I answered, squeezing Ferd close. "I know the rest." He'd kept the truth concealed for so many years, bearing all that guilt all by himself. "Why didn't you tell me before, Ferd?"
"B-b-because!" my brother stammered; he hadn't stammered since he was fifteen! "B-b-because I was so ashamed that I couldn't hold it! Just another few minutes, and..." He collapsed into tears once more, his head pressed up tight against my chest.
"Shh, now," I urged Ferd after enough time had passed, gently kicking at the endless sea of muck just enough to keep us afloat. "Shh. That's enough crying for now. All is understood now, and all is forgiven. Not that there was ever anything to forgive in the first place."
Ferd pulled his dark-stained face away from my chest and blinked up at me. "But... We're going to die, Hanky," he said. "Why shouldn't we cry together?"
"Well," I answered slowly. "You can keep right on sniffling if you'd like. That's up to you." Then I pointed up at the weak, wavery tunnel entrance that had crackled to life in midair perhaps five hundred feet over our heads. "But me, I'm gonna work on getting the heck out of here!"
-= 13 =-
"It's impossible," Ferd declared for perhaps the tenth time as we both stared upwards. "He couldn't possibly have reconfigured the portal. He's too young."
"Jack's a genius," I countered. We were floating side by side now, staring upwards. "I mean, have you seen what he's done with our truck? Someday, he'll become a far more gifted commode designer than either of us ever dreamed of becoming."
"Perhaps," Ferdinand answered, still sounding doubtful. "Perhaps. But you're damned good, Hank."
I felt something warm and pleasant gurgling inside of me; it was the first time my brother had ever offered me a professional compliment. "And you're not a half-bad proctologist," I replied. "But now... How are we going to get Jack to lower that portal down to where we can reach it?"
"He's got to adjust the azimuth," Ferd replied. "Frobbe and I discussed this once; I fear that I misled you, Hank. I knew Frobbe quite well. We often discussed alternate-universe theory in our favorite internet chatroom, #Excreta. He needs to turn one of the kings of diamonds in the pinochle deck face-down. That would be just about right."
"But how can we let him know?" I replied, despairing inside. "I mean, look at how the portal's flickering? It can't hold together long."
"Have you any notepaper?" he demanded. "Maybe I could hold a note over your backside, and --"
"No, no, no!" I answered, exasperated. "You'd just lose your fingers, is all. And besides --" Suddenly my words trailed off as I had a truly desperate idea. "But maybe..."
"Maybe what?" Ferd demanded, his head cocked suspiciously to one side.
I pressed my lips together in concentration. My brother had labeled me a super-hero earlier, and I supposed I might be one in a minor-league sort of way. But still... Then the portal dimmed out suddenly, almost fading out altogether. That made up my mind for me. "Ferd," I said in the firmest tones I possessed. "I need for you to do exactly what I say, no matter what. No argument. All right?"
"Sure," he replied as I reached down and undid my rear flap, allowing the cold, reeking sewage free access to my skin.
"All right then," I continued, holding out my arms. "Climb in, so that I can carry you."
"Carry me? What on Earth..."
"Ferd!" I ordered, watching the portal flicker, "Just do it!"
"Right," he agreed meekly, arranging himself so that my right arm was supporting his back, and my left his legs, as if he were a baby. "All aboard!"
"Good," I answered, screwing up my enhanced belly-muscles just as tight as they would go and thereby building up a truly colossal amount of internal pressure. "Now, hang on!"
When I let fly, it was with many times more force than I'd ever employed before. A continuous stream of feces emerged from my anus at supersonic speed...
...and, quite smoothly, Ferd and I began to rise up out of the ocean of sewage.
"I don't believe it!" my brother screamed, his face lit up like a little boy's. "We're flying! You can fly! We can fly!"
We were flying all right, but so far not in any particular direction. Maintaining thrust wasn't all that hard, but vector control was another story entirely. It wasn't at all like what you see in the comic books; by the very nature of things I had to keep my legs splayed well apart, making me look and feel ungainly and out-of-balance. I was all over the sky at first, until I picked up the trick of clenching either one butt-cheek or the other to vary our direction of thrust a little. Plus, I had little control of velocity; in no time at all we were moving much too fast for safety. Somehow I managed to keep my gaze focused on our goal, however, and edge us ever closer to it despite the series of crazy loops and dives that my lack of control enforced upon us. Finally I managed to line the portal up square in front of us and keep it there for more than a second or two. The glowing circle grew and grew until it became the size of a full moon, and then it grew larger still...
...until we burst through into safe, friendly free-fall, where I even had the presence of mind to shut down my super-rectum and make full and comforting use of my very last package of herbal sanitary paper.
-= 14 =-
It was a beautiful sunny spring day in Cleveland, a glorious day to own a sports car. My already oversized grin widened as I swung my vintage 1960 Renault Caravelle off of the public streets and down towards my private garage. I'd had to do something to replace my beautiful Taurus, and my brother Ferd had suggested the Caravelle. It was love at first sight!
I didn't bother raising the top as I climbed out of my banana-yellow ride, nor did I unload my suitcase. Instead, I simply strode towards my private elevator, whistling a happy little tune. Today's test run had gone perfectly; I'd successfully demonstrated the usefulness of my commode design for the upcoming Mars mission, and NASA was even considering hiring me as a permanent consultant. Life was good.
My flight from Houston had been delayed slightly, so I wasn't surprised to find Ferd and Jack already sitting in my living room waiting for me, playing a trivia game. "Of what nineteenth-century invention," Ferd was asking, reading from a little card, "did the London Times say 'This device adds injury to insult'?"
Jack screwed up his face in concentration, covering his eyes with one hand. "I don't know," he admitted finally.
"The steam toilet!" I answered from across the room, before Ferd could speak. "Hello, everyone! I'm home! And the project was a complete success!"
"Hurray!" Jack replied, leaping to his feet in excitement. Ferdinand was only a little slower, but his smile was just as big. He reached out to shake my hand as I walked towards him, but I was having none of it. Instead, we gave each other big hugs. My twin brother was doing a lot better nowadays; he was in therapy twice a week. But even more important to his happiness, he was no longer wearing a diaper everywhere he went. His incontinence, it had turned out, was purely psychological in nature. Once his sense of guilt was dealt with, full control had returned. And, best of all, he was taking engineering classes to become a commode engineer in his own right. Given his solid background in proctology, I anticipated serious, though loving, competition.
"All right," I declared as the hug finally broke up. "Who's for Mexican food tonight?"
"Sounds good!" Jack replied. I'd never seen such an eating machine; had Ferd and I been so hungry all of the time during our own growth spurts? If so, how had our parents avoided bankruptcy? My ward was doing quite well for himself; he'd been out of school when we'd met, but had passed his GED test easily. That had been no surprise; after all, he'd been smart enough to recognize that the sheep's head I'd destroyed while passing through Frobbe's dimension-hopper could easily be replaced as a temporary expedient by a frozen leg of lamb, available in any well-stocked supermarket. Ferdinand and I both owed our lives to his quick thinking. I'd bought him his dream car as a reward, a 1976 AMC Pacer, and he was taking great joy in hot-rodding it up. Jack was also enrolled in a few classes down at the local community college. But Jack seemed to learn best by doing, so he spent most of his time acting as my assistant. Some of his work had gone into the Mars commode project, and would eventually land on the Red Planet. Not every seventeen-year-old boy could boast of having famous astronauts defecating on their handiwork!
"Mexican it is, then!" I replied, easing my way into the kitchen so that the game could continue undisturbed. There were refried beans in the freezer; I pulled them out, along with some frozen burritos and taco meat. Then I turned on the oven to warm up...
...and the little brown phone in the bathroom began beeping. "Damn!" I cursed, slamming the little tub of rock-solid guacamole onto the counter. "Aren't we entitled to a little peace now and again?"
"Now, now!" Ferd replied, his voice calm and soothing. "Everything must balance, Hank. With great power comes great responsibility."
"I know," I replied, looking down at the beans wistfully. "I know. But it would have been such a nice family dinner.
"You're the one who asked me set things up this way, so as to keep your true identity a secret." Ferd reminded me. "And you're also the one that asked me to give out your private number to proctologists, plumbers and wastewater engineers all over Cleveland."
"I know," I repeated, my back straightening a little. "Thank you."
"...so your cat's trapped in the sanitary sewer," Jack was repeating in the next room, taking careful notes exactly as he'd been trained to do. "And no one can get it out. Not even the fire department." There was a long pause. "No, Ma'am. This is not The Crapper himself, but you can be assured that everything you tell me will be brought to his personal attention. You're speaking to Bowel Boy."
I sighed. "Can't anyone else free stuck cats?"
"Now, now!" my brother cautioned me, his smile warm and friendly. "You're the one with the tool-steel sphincter!"
That was true enough, I knew. So I sighed and reached for my TURD just as Bowel Boy hung up the special line. "Are you ready to go, Jack?" I asked.
"Sure thing, Crapper!" he replied eagerly.
"I'll ride along, if you don't mind," my brother interjected. "You never know when a proctologist might come in handy."
"Right," I agreed, picking up a couple packets of herbal sanitary paper and tucking them neatly into my pouch. Well, there were other ways for families to bond besides eating meals together, I supposed. "Then, in that case... Let's roll!"