"Damn!", came a muffled voice that I know all too well. I pulled on my robe and stumbled down the stairs, relying heavily on the hand rail.
The basement smelled like the Fourth of July. A blue-white haze hung in the air. Through the haze I caught sight of Flash Mildew dragging a white porcelain toilet across the room toward the make-shift stage set up in the corner. A large scorch mark blemished the even green pasture of artificial turf covering the stage. I recognized the toilet -- a glance through the door to my left confirmed that it had been unbolted from the guest bathroom. The disconnected supply hose kept up a steady drip onto the linoleum. From the size of the puddle, the toilet had been removed some hours ago.
"I'm just not getting enough thrust", said Flash (apparently to the toilet). "It gets up, but it won't stay up." He had pulled the toilet back onto the stage, and was packing a black substance into the bottom opening of the "waste tube". His hand dipped repeatedly into a small wooden cask with "Hercules Blasting Powder" stenciled on the side.
A few "Viagra" jokes ran through my mind. I decided to try the direct approach.
"Ummmm, Flash? What are you doing?"
He fell back as though the porcelain throne had bit him. His head swiveled wildly. He spotted me standing in the doorway. "Don't you know not to sneak up on a man who's working with explosives?", he shrieked.
"I don't generally find men working with explosives in my basement. New effect?"
"Levitating crapper. I need a closer for my new club act. I'm getting good height, four or five feet, but the duration sucks. If you blink, you miss it. It's also beating up audience in the first three rows where this piss-pot wants to land."
He went back to packing powder. I walked over to open a window, and noted several crushed folding chairs out in the "audience". Their cushioning sacrifice was all that had kept the pyrotechnic potty in one piece through repeated landings.
"You need a better exhaust nozzle, and something with a more controlled burn rate than blasting powder", I suggested.** Only after I had said it did I consider that Flash might take the remark about a "better exhaust nozzle" as a personal insult. Fortunately, he let it slide.
Flash stopped packing powder, scowled, and stared into the near-empty cask. "I'm gonna sleep on it. I wonder what the boys at the Cape use for the space shuttle?" With that, he stood up and walked out toward the guest room. I left the window open and headed up the stairs to bed.
After all too little sleep, I arose, packed, and ran for the airport. I missed my flight by a few minutes, but quickly caught another flight with a stop-over in Cincinnati. The rest of the trip was uneventful.
I returned home after an absence of four days. The basement was as exactly I had left it, and Flash was gone. Usually he leaves a note by the phone with some cryptic clue as to which direction he headed, but there was nothing from him this time. There was a brick with a note tied to it on the living room floor, but it was from the owner of the local tavern demanding payment of Flash's bar tab. I swept up the shards of broken glass and called my repair guy to come replace the window and re-install the guest bathroom toilet.
Several weeks went by without any word from or about Flash -- not even a call from some law-enforcement agency asking after his whereabouts. Then, one day I read the following on an e-mail service for magicians:
The words "long, horrifying story" and Flash Mildew fit together too well for this to be coincidence. A quick check of the Atlas revealed that Pinetta is a small town in extreme northern Florida just off Interstate 10 -- a perfect spot for someone who might just need to get across the state line in a hurry. The pieces started dropping into place quickly.
I figure Flash caught a bus to Florida and weaseled his way into Cape Canaveral. After locating a supply of the propellant, he stuffed as much as he could fit into his duffel and crawled out under a fence. Don't be surprised if the next shuttle finds itself in orbit a few miles lower than expected.
The rest of the story should be obvious to everyone. I can't even guess what Flash used for a nozzle, but it must have been too restrictive. I only hope that C.H. was in another part of the house at the time. I wonder how he figured out that the toilet was the source of the blast?
Although Flash usually comes out of these situations unscathed, I did worry for a few days. Then, I tuned into the middle of a news report on CNN:
Flash has always liked working cruise ships. They say the fire started in the crew laundry. I'll bet there was a bathroom nearby.