by Robert Hall
Dub Tacker wasn't a horrible man. He wasn't even a bad man. He was just a public nuisance, that's all. Like the time he tapped into the Water Company's computer and turned the power off to the generator. That cut off the water supply for half of the county, including the poor, humble town of Marian, Arkansas.
Even the old widow Collier, as sweet a soul as she was, wasn't amused by it. She drove to the city police station when she heard about them arresting Dub and screamed obscenities at him along with half the townsfolk, who were jammed in the corridors and lined up outside the station house, trying to give old Dub a necktie party. You see, he had pulled the plug on the electric power station just the day before, and all this during one of the worst ice storms in recent memory.
The whole of Marian was blacked out and thirsty. Why, even the Wal-Mart-- that mainstay of the Arkansas economy--was reduced to opening its doors for only a few seconds at a time, allowing customers inside just ten at a time to shop for much-needed supplies like bottled water (now long since gone off the shelves), and batteries, as well as food. And don't even try to get in line at a mom and pop convenience store in the area. Whew!
If Dub was wanting for attention, he got it--in spades! Only, you would think a quirky person like Dub wouldn't be trying to get a crowd to notice him, would you? That's a measure of how far over the brink the ol' feller really was.
It wasn't as if the townspeople hadn't tried to get him committed before. Dub, with his ever-present bicycle, was a fixture in town, pedaling to and fro from the store for supplies or knick-knacks with the small, tattered American flag wrapped with masking tape stuck on his right handlebar and fluttering in the wind. Gosh, they knew he was bonkers all right. He would stand on the street corners yelling at the air and waving the small flag around and around his head. Only, to a lot of folks, that meant a lot. You would hear them say, "He might be mad as a hatter, but at least Dub is patriotic. You gotta give him that." It was a saving grace of his, many avowed.
So, he would wave his flag at the traffic passing by and panhandle pedestrians, till the police got tired of the complaints and shut him up inside the slammer for a week or two till the medications they ordered for him took effect. He would even take the pills for a short while too, till his dementia returned. Then he was back out on the street corner again yelling or holed-up with one of his withdrawal mood swings inside his trailer just north of town in a wooded area, tinkering with his computers and machines. The money from his mamma's estate left to him when she passed on was enough to guarantee him the resources to exist and a place to live.
The city couldn't keep him away from computers. He was borderline autistic, and like many others with that condition, he had a brilliant flare about him when it came to the digital boards, circuitry, wires and modems. They fascinated him, and he became an Internet junkie. And that was all just fine and dandy, as long as he kept to himself.
But then he found out he could interact with the world by just punching out keys on his keyboard and moving his mouse.
That's when he started meddling in other folks' business.
He took delight in messing with the county's affairs, and the town of Marian in particular. It was a peculiar twist to his mental condition that while deathly afraid of people in general, he sought to do things in the throes of his delirium that would directly impact their lives.
At the present moment, for instance, he was entertaining the idea of spreading an E-mail containing a virus he'd found while surfing the Net. The virus had the power to insert itself in the computer mailbox of the receiver and mail itself out with the first E-mails sent by the secondary computer like a chain letter. The contents of the chain letter, which Dub had re-worded himself (and as such was rightfully proud), read as follows:
They don't salute the flag when I wave it on Saturday, in
front of Jenson's Drug Store. I see them go by in their cars.
They don't think I remember them, but I do. They are the
ones who made me take the medicine when I go to jail.
I say, impeach them all! Rise up, fellow Americans and
we will win against the Communists in office!"
He read and re-read the message until he was satisfied with it. Then he read it one last time. He couldn't help it. He always was good with words. He perused his handiwork obsessively for a few more minutes, then he punched a button and sent it to an E-mail address he got off the Net white pages. He giggled fiendishly, then pulled up another E-mail address and punched the button once more. Again, he tittered to himself.
It was at that exact moment as he was sending the second volley of good news into some unsuspecting townsperson's home computer that he heard the noise.
At first it sounded like an huge machine of some kind that had been left on. Then it pounded louder and louder into his temples. Carefully, Dub arose from his chair at his computer console and peeped out of the bent blinds of his living room of the trailer. As he looked out, a fierce white beam of light shafted down from the sky and illuminated the field right behind his trailer. It crossed and re-crossed the field and wooded area behind the place, finally settling down on one patch of land where a cover crop had been planted by some farmer Dub had let till the land and pay rent to him.
Then the beam was joined by several others that converged upon the point behind Dub's trailer. Big machines were landing outside. Big machines! Dub shook with the sight and sound of it all!
"It's space aliens!" Dub yelled, looking through the bent blinds on the window. "They've come for us all. It's an invasion!" He started to blubber, wet coursing rivulets of wetness ran down his cheeks as he quaked in his shoes.
"I gotta get out. I gotta get out now and let the others know. The whole town has gotta know about this. I have to run to town and let them all know. Old Dub will be a hero, Dub will!"
Unsteady on his feet and frightened half to death, he ran to a spot behind his shower stall in the small bathroom where a huge piece of drainage pipe was inserted into the ground underneath the trailer home. Dub had laid it down last year when the police had last come for him. He hated taking the medicine they forced into him, and he determined that he wasn't going to be captured again. Now, the pipe would serve him in good stead. It was his escape hatch.
The drainage pipe descended five feet down into the ground and was connected to another set of pipe, which ran about thirty yards toward the side of the small spot of land Dub's trailer was sitting on. It opened into the drainage ditch. No one could see it from the outside; Dub had placed camouflage deer hunter's material over it and planted some mature privet hedge into the ground around it.
He let himself into the pipe and crawled along underneath the ground. Coming out the other end, he raised his head and let his eyes focus as the beating sounds increased around him. There were machines coming in close, about to land all about him, he realized. And figures were jumping from those that had already landed back behind Dub's trailer in an open field. He couldn't make out the outline of the flying machines--they were hidden by an outcrop of trees bordering his property. The aliens held all sorts of guns in their hands and were all dressed in black.
"They're coming to kill me," thought Dub, his hand going to his mouth. "It's the aliens! The folks in town gotta know about this. All of them are mad at me 'cause of the trouble I've caused, but I'll be the hero now. Old Dub will save the day and tell about the aliens. I can't let them kill me!"
As the sound of feet crashing through the woods behind him increased, Dub took off, his legs carrying him to the edge of the drainage ditch closest to the country road. He tripped, getting out of the ditch, slid in the mud and was covered in the sticky stuff. Getting to the road, he considered.
"What should I do? I can't run very far. Maybe if I went to town? If I apologize to the Sheriff for all the trouble I caused, maybe he will spread the word about the aliens and won't let them kill me?"
Away he went, caked with mud, his bare feet slapping the pavement--he hadn't considered putting on shoes, what with the glowing machines falling to earth about him.
At Earle's Biscuits, old Mr. Grady and his wife Emily, with their granddaughter Polly, were enjoying a late-night round of gravy and biscuits. Polly was whining for more jelly with hers. Mr. Grady was about to raise his hand to signal for the waitress to bring the jelly. But just then Dub came running past, his hair flying in the late night breeze. His mud-caked body clad only in pajamas (for he had also not had time to dress before the invasion) was covered in brown goop. His legs were pumping, and his bare feet were slapping pavement hard. And through the glass, the threesome could hear his words as he gibbered and ran past, right by the window:
"Sheriff, help! Help me, please! It's the aliens! They're coming for all of us. Oh, no, no, no!"
Their mouths dropped open, and they looked at each other around the table. Polly was the first to speak, having completely forgotten about her jelly. The words she said were supplied by God, who only gives that kind of wisdom to babes.
"What's he yelling for the Sheriff about, Grandpa? Did somebody throw mud on him or something?" she asked, her eyes wide and her mouth forming an O at the end of her question.
"World's gone to hell in a handbasket," offered Mr. Grady, staring out into the road, unbelieving of the sight presented to his eyes.
"Paw-paw! Watch your words around the little one," said Emily, his wife, clasping her hands around little Polly's ears, but still as shocked as her spouse as she looked outside at the figure hurtling through the night air.
As if that wasn't enough, a brilliant white light followed the appearance of the madly dashing Dub. The waitress, who had also caught a glimpse of the running man, opened the front door of the restaurant and looked outside.
"It's one of them helicopters, shining its light in town. Wonder what's going on? Hope it ain't another escaped prisoner down at the county jail. They just can't keep those criminals locked up down there. Always escaping and such."
Indeed, it was a police helicopter. Dub had been sighted by one of the men on the ground, and a copter had been dispatched to follow him until a ground unit was engaged in the chase. The machines which had landed around his trailer were not aliens, but the State Drug Intervention Team out on a raid of a marijuana patch they had kept under observation for some time. Several cars from the team were headed into town even at that minute to join in the search for Dub.
Arriving at the Police station, Dub yanked on the glass entry door and ran down the hallway to the desk sergeant's office. Sergeant Futrell, a man accustomed to strange sights, raised his eyes and beheld what looked like a madman, staring him in the face.
"I wanna see the Sheriff! I'm sorry, and I want to tell the Sheriff. Please, Sergeant, would you go get him? We got aliens!" The disheveled, bewildered and dirty Dub begged the man, falling to his knees, panting after his long run into town on county road 97.
Now, Futrell was a wise man and could see a potential problem right off the bat. He didn't want to deal with Dub, as he knew about the poor man's unending problems with the local establishment, and he also recalled the Sheriff's stern warning to his police force at the last squad-room meeting: "Any sign of trouble from Dub, give me a call," he had ordered.
Futrell picked Dub up, placed him in a chair and handcuffed him. He marched straight to the phone on his desk and called the Sheriff, who wasn't at home, but was in his office just on the other side of the wall, busily working on next year's budget projections.
"Sheriff, you gotta come out here in the lobby. I got Dub Tacker here and he's raving again--this time about aliens.
"Aliens, huh? Say no more. I'll be right there."
The phone slammed on the other end, making Sgt. Futrell's ear smart for a minute.
Just then the front door to the station house burst open, and in marched a group of black-clad men, led by a huge uniformed state officer in the front.
"Sergeant, this man is a fugitive from justice," the officer told Futrell, pointing at Dub Tacker, who jerked away, cringing and shaking in a nearby chair.
"What do you want here?" asked Futrell
From behind him echoed, "Yes, what do you want here?" It was the Sheriff, coming from his office.
The officer addressed both men. "We were doing a drug raid just north of town here and the helicopters detected the infra-red signature of a field of marijuana being grown just outside your city limits. This man here fled from the scene. He lives in a trailer on the property. We want him," demanded the state man, stabbing his finger toward Dub once more.
Dub fell to the floor, his arms in handcuffs, pleading. "Please, Sheriff. The aliens are going to kill me. I'm sorry for turning off the electricity in town. Please don't let them kill me for it. I won't do it again."
These creatures in men's skins weren't kidding Dub. He was convinced they were space aliens.
"This man is incompetent, sir. It won't do you any good to drag him to court. We've tried to have him committed. They won't do it. And any charge you lodge against him will fail," Owen explained to the state man.
"Besides, you say you found marijuana out there on Dub's place?" the Sheriff asked.
"Well, Dub don't plant nothing out there. I know. We've raided the place a dozen times in order to stop him from mischief. But he's no doper. Where exactly did you find the plants?"
"Across the ditch, just behind this man's trailer home."
"Dub don't farm that. A man rents the land and farms that for Dub. All he does is collect the rent. You need to be looking into arresting the man that rents from Dub."
"Is that so?" the man said, looking at Dub. The accused nodded furiously at the question.
"Hmmm. Well, we'll get this other man's name and talk to him as well. In the meantime, will you hold him here?"
"Sure thing," the Sheriff said.
"By the way, this Dub feller is sending messages to your folks in town. I got a dispatch message on the way into town here. He's sending E-mail on his computer out at his trailer, and he's calling you and your political friends all communists. Thought you might like to hear that."
The Sheriff gave Dub a hard look. Dub sheepishly grinned, turning white at the accusation, having been caught at his true crime.
As the state man started to leave, the Sheriff called out. "Wait a sec." He approached the officer and asked in a whisper, "Don't you state boys confiscate things when you find a party guilty of drug charges?" he said.
"Why yes, of course."
"How about Dub here. Could you confiscate something of his 'cause the marijuana was found on his land?"
"Well, yes. But you just said--"
"I know what I said. Just give me a second or two." Sheriff Owen approached Dub, who was still on the floor.
"Dub," he said, leaning down and addressing the man, "you been bad again, haven't you? And after we had our little talk and everything too. I'm really disappointed in you, Dub. So you are going to have to be punished for this. Tell you what: I'll give you a choice. Either you can stay a while here at the station and take some medicine, or I'll let the aliens have you and they'll take away your computer as well. What do you say?"
"Oh, Sheriff!" wailed Dub, for he really loved his computer. Only, when he took the medicine, it put him in La-La land, so that he didn't know anything about anything for a long time. He could at least live without the computer for a time till he accumulated enough disability money. Then he could get a brand new one and start over fresh. But the medicine. Ugh!
"Take the computer," he at last said, wincing even as he framed the words, looking at the large officer across the room and imagining the tortures that aliens like him could inflict.
"Confiscate Dub's computer. Let the trailer and the rest alone. He's got to have a place to stay. But that blasted computer--at least maybe I can slow him down for a while from all his trouble-making."
"Will do," acknowledged the state man, leading his troops back out the station house door.
"Thanks, Dub." Owen said to the man, lifting him back into place in his chair.
"What for, Sheriff?" asked the bothersome Dub.
"For making my New Year start off so well," said the Sheriff, turning on his heels and walking back to his office, whistling a happy tune as he did so.
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