I followed LaShawn along the tunnel. It dipped and narrowed. Above us, the drumming cracks of machine gun fire ceased, leaving only the rumbling drone of the tractor tyre. LaShawn quickened his pace and began singing “Lump” by The Presidents of the United States of America.
At the end of the tunnel, he picked up his remote-control car and its remote control and climbed the ladder to the surface. He heaved the square wooden trap door up and open then climbed out. I followed and found myself right behind the big mango tree. Its huge trunk stretched up and branched out, blotting out the sky above me with ten thousand dark, pointed leaves. The air was cool and soaked in the sweet yet slightly funky aroma of a hundred half-rotting mangoes fallen to the ground, most with bite marks from hungry fruit bats. Transported into this tranquil nook, with the tree trunk eclipsing the carnage of Budgie’s backyard, I momentarily forgot the terrors of battle, and remembered that the world is good, brimming with beauty and pleasures of the soul more satisfying than big houses and fast cars and glowing television screens with their accompanying sitcom studio audience laughter. I bowed my head, closed my eyes and breathed deeply. When I opened my eyes, I was hurled back to reality by the hellish visage of Ezra’s rottweiler, Robin. Entirely blood-stained and with a drool-swaddled string of what I can only conclude was human flesh dangling from her jaw, her face looked curiously up at mine. She huffed a cloud of rancid breath at me and then trotted away around the tree, to where LaShawn and Ezra were crouched, waiting and watching, on the slope that led up to the back corner of Budgie’s house.
I crept over and joined them and peeked over at the yard. Burning debris, three smoking craters (probably what nearly collapsed the tunnel), and at least thirty dead bodies—it was a war zone. And then there was Budgie, zigzagging around the yard in his tractor tyre. It growled and rumbled as it sped up, then whirred and leaned over making a sharp turn, its mounted guns rotating and seeking targets, before rebalancing, roaring and speeding off again, bouncing over corpses and wreckage. None of Jimmy O’Shea’s men (at least none living) remained in the yard. It seemed even a horde of heavily armed thugs was no match for Budgie and that tyre.
“What’s going on?” I whispered.
“Rory’s pinned down behind the shed,” said LaShawn.
I looked toward the shed. There was nothing going on, just a few of Jimmy O’Shea’s men lying dead on the near side. I assumed either Budgie or Rory had picked them off.
“Can’t Budgie give him some cover fire?” I said.
The tractor tyre made another pass, humming toward us, slowing with a shudder around a charred block that I think may have been Nils’s guitar amp, then hurtled away with a roar.
“Five minutes ago, O’Shea’s men retreated into the house,” said Ezra. “Since then, Budgie has stayed over this side of the yard—hasn’t gone near the shed. Something’s up.”
“Rory,” said LaShawn, pointing across the yard.
From the rear of the shed, Rory had emerged. He lumbered toward the house, his feet dragging, and opened fire on the first-floor windows. After unleashing a long barrage, he tossed his rifle aside and took a grenade from his belt.
“What’s he doing?” said Ezra.
“Hang on…” said LaShawn, suspiciously.
Rory pulled the pin and then yelled something with a furious, drunken slur. The rage disappeared from his eyes, his head dropped, and then, with a flaccid flick of his arm, he lobbed the grenade. It flew no more than two feet and dribbled to a stop in front of him. The look on his face as he watched it was one of droopy indifference.
“Rory, run!” I screamed.
LaShawn grabbed me and rolled me back down the slope, smothering my mouth with his hand. There was a shattering boom from the other side of the yard. In fear and shock and disbelief I kicked and threw my elbows back, trying to break the hold in which LaShawn had locked me. Tears gushed down my face as that dreadful sight seared itself into my mind—Rory watching the live grenade at his feet. I stood, with LaShawn clinging to my back and hissing at me to be quiet. With a wrench of my head I got a mouthful of his forearm and bit down. As he swore and loosened his grip, I grabbed his arms, heaved my upper body forward and flipped him over my head. His left hand had a death grip on my shirt, and as he went flying over me, he yanked my collar up around my throat like a tightening noose and pulled me off balance. The two of us fell flat on the grass, head-to-head. I laid there limp, face-down and sobbing; LaShawn wheezed from the impact of his fall. Finally, he recovered enough breath to whisper to me, “It was a clone.”
I sniffed and lifted my head. LaShawn nodded.
“That wasn’t Rory?”
LaShawn shook his head. He stood and brushed himself off. I rolled onto my back and sighed.
“Come on, get up,” he said, helping me to my feet. “It’s not over yet. The real Rory is still over there.”
Ezra had kept guard with my AK-47.
“You all right, Miles?” he said as LaShawn and I returned.
“Yeah,” I said, still a little shaken. “It’s just, I thought that was really Rory.”
“Easy mistake to make,” he said.
He handed me back the gun.
“Where’s your Uzi?” I said.
“Robin and I encountered some resistance on our way across the ridge. Spent my ammo.”
“Have you got another gun?”
“Nah, I’m good,” he said, pointing to the ground next to him.
I looked. On the ground was a medieval English style sword and shield. I almost laughed, but restrained myself when I saw the serious look on Ezra’s face.
“Why didn’t they shoot the clone?” said LaShawn, looking across at the spot where the Rory doppelganger had blown himself up.
“Did they know it was a clone?” I said.
“Maybe,” said LaShawn. “But still…”
“I reckon they’re trying to lure us over there,” said Ezra. “Get us in the one spot, take us out with one strike.”
“So, what do we do?” said LaShawn. “We can’t just leave Rory stuck there.”
“If he could just get around the front of the shed,” I said, “then he could take the tunnel.”
LaShawn stood up. “We have to try and give him some cover.”
“Hold on, what’s this?” he said, ducking back down.
From around the side of the house, a small unit of thugs approached. Budgie wheeled the tyre around and charged. As the great rubber ring hurtled across the yard, its guns locked onto the men. The tyre neared and the men stepped apart to reveal Jimmy O’Shea in their midst, his right arm levelled at the tyre and glowing bright green.
“Oh no,” I gasped.
The tyre swerved, Jimmy O’Shea’s arm shone dazzlingly bright, and there was a great surge of heat. His arm flickered then faded, a great crack split the ground below the tyre, and a huge fireball flipped the tyre and sent it flying. It summersaulted twice, thumped off the ground and did another summersault and a half before crashing on its side near the back wall of the house. Jimmy O’Shea, his men guarding him, retreated, leaving three of his men to investigate the tractor tyre. The middle one wore a red tracksuit—Red Ned.
Before I knew it, Ezra grabbed the machine gun from my hand and fired a burst—the goon on the left’s head rocked back with a spray of blood, and he crumpled to the ground. Simultaneously, from the back of the shed, Rory stepped out, side-on. His rifle flashed and barked, and the man on the right shuddered then collapsed. Red Ned crouched and fired in our direction. We laid flat and I backed down the slope as a wave of bullets whizzed close overhead, zipping through the treetops down the hill behind us and thudding the tree trunks close by. The firing stopped and I crawled back in between Ezra and LaShawn. By the house, Budgie stood up from the centre of the tractor tyre.
“Sh**,” said Ezra.
With Red Ned near him, Budgie was now in the line of fire.
“Get down, Budge!” yelled Rory from the other side of the yard.
Red Ned aimed at Budgie but didn’t fire, keeping a short distance. Like a dazed boxer, Budgie was oblivious to his surroundings, using all his efforts simply to stay upright. He clambered over and out of the huge tyre and swayed on his feet.
“Oh no,” said LaShawn.
“Oh no,” was right. The heat of the blast from Jimmy O’Shea’s bionic arm had singed every hair from Budgie’s head, leaving him as bald as an egg, and therefore, according to Budgie’s dogged reasoning, disqualified from possessing any Samson-like superpowers.
“Look out, Budgie!” called LaShawn.
Red Ned kept his Uzi on him. Budgie teetered and rubbed eyes. He bent over and kept touching his face, then stood and spun around, gaping and with his eyes wide. Red Ned stepped back.
“Budgie, get down!” said Ezra. He was ready to fire.
Budgie stumbled to the back wall of the house and leaned against it. He looked down and shook his head. “My eyes,” he called in a panicked voice. “I… I can’t see.”
“He’s right next to you, Budgie!” said Ezra. “Get down!”
“No one shoot!” yelled Red Ned. “If I hear a shot, I’ll blow his brains out right here!” There was a satisfied smile on his face. “You understand? Good. All right, here’s what we’re going to—”
Red Ned’s instructions were cut short by a blood-curdling wail. Budgie had discovered his hair was gone. He ran his hands desperately over his newly smooth scalp, thrashing around in circles. Again he wailed.
“My hair!” he screamed, full of grief and fury.
With his most hideous wail of all, he dropped to his knees and hung his head. After watching Budgie collapse, humbled and broken, Red Ned chuckled. Ezra pressed the gun to his shoulder and breathed slowly.
“Almost a clear shot,” he whispered.
Red Ned relaxed but kept his weapon on Budgie. Ezra shuffled to the side. He took a deep breath.
“Hey!” called Red Ned, looking toward us. “Over there near the trees—I see you. Put the gun down. Put it down or I shoot your mate.”
“You got him?” whispered LaShawn.
“I got him,” whispered Ezra.
Budgie climbed to his feet.
“Oh sh**, Budgie,” said Ezra, taking his finger off the trigger, “stay down, would ya?”
Budgie positioned himself between the wall and the rickety wooden ladder he had left leaning there earlier when he was working on the roof.
“I mean it,” called Red Ned.
“Damn it,” said Ezra. “Okay!” he answered, lowering the gun to his waist. “No one’s firing, see?”
Budgie pressed one hand to the wall, and with the other he gripped a ladder rung.
“All right,” said Red Ned. “You lot over there, put down you weapons and—”
“Oh Lord God,” cried Budgie, gazing blindly to the heavens, “remember me, I pray thee, only this once, Oh God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes!”
LaShawn and I glanced at each other in confusion. Red Ned scowled and raised his gun, watching Budgie closely. Budgie’s shoulders rose, and then with a mighty strain he pushed. The skinny old ladder trembled, then detached ever so slightly from the roof. It teetered upright for a moment, and then Budgie roared and outstretched his arms. As if in slow motion, the ladder leaned out from the wall, further and further, before gaining pace and crashing to the ground. Budgie slumped against the wall in exhaustion. Red Ned looked at the ladder lying on the ground, and then at Budgie. He snickered and shook his head.
The ladder had toppled harmlessly. Compared to Samson’s final feat of strength, sceptics might suggest Budgie’s ladder shove was an embarrassing failure. They would say Budgie’s strength was that of a normal man, and that he had no divine help in pushing over the ladder. They would scoff and say the fallen ladder was no miracle at all.
But God works in mysterious ways.
LaShawn switched on the remote control and sent the remote-control car racing across the yard. It dipped out of sight into a small crater then leapt back up a split-second later, hurdling a dead body, and sped straight for Red Ned. Its little engine screamed, and Red Ned watched it in bewilderment, raising his gun toward it.
“Watch this,” said LaShawn.
He pressed a button on the remote control, and little red light began flashing on the car. It closed in Red Ned, gaining speed. It sped right past him, hit the fallen ladder, flipped and kept racing across the yard.
“Watch what?” I said.
LaShawn screwed his face up and pressed the button harder as he looked to the roof. I followed his gaze and saw the antenna on the roof swivelling and pointing down, tracking the remote-control car.
“Why is the T.V. antenna moving?” I said.
“That’s not an antenna,” said LaShawn. “It’s a laser. It shoots wherever I send the car.”
The car whipped around in a tight U-turn and charged back at Red Ned, who fired his weapon at it. Budgie got to his feet and stumbled toward Red Ned.
“Here we go,” said LaShawn.
The car sped toward its target through puffs of dust springing up from Red Ned’s desperate gunfire. LaShawn smashed the button repeatedly with his thumb. The light on the car flashed; the antenna followed it but didn’t fire any laser beams.
“Aah, you know what?” said LaShawn. “I reckon I forgot to charge the laser. Yep, that’ll be it.”
“Well, now what?” I said.
Budgie tripped on the ladder and fell. The ladder rocked a fraction, to the perfect angle, just as the remote-control car hit it at speed. It launched as if from a ramp and flew directly at Red Ned, who tried to duck away, but he was too slow. The car speared him clean in the right ear, knocking him down and forcing him to drop his gun.
“That’ll do,” said LaShawn.
He picked up some sort of spear hidden in the grass, sprang like a gazelle and ran across the yard, waving the spear overhead and hollering like a madman.
“Ah, sh**, there he goes,” said Ezra. He shoved the machine gun into my hands and then shoved me after LaShawn. “Run,” he commanded.
I tucked the gun under my arm like a football and ran.
With a tingling fear in my belly, I ran for my life across the yard. Ezra overtook me, brandishing his sword and shield, and headed toward Budgie, who was crawling in circles. LaShawn, way out in front of us, hurled his spear at Red Ned. The spear had a long, hooked blade at its tip—it was in fact a scythe. It spiralled awkwardly through the air and landed well short of its target. Still running, he reached into his pocket and took out a smaller weapon. Red Ned stood wobbling and oblivious to LaShawn’s impulsive assault. Ezra reached Budgie, ducked his head under Budgie’s arm and helped him to his feet. The two hobbled away from the action (under Robin’s snarling protection) and back toward the mango tree. I gasped for breath, still sprinting (or as close as I get to sprinting). Red Ned, dazed and slack-jawed, turned like a zombie. There was a faint look of comprehension in his eyes as he saw LaShawn. He raised his hands drunkenly in defence. LaShawn grabbed Red Ned’s outstretched right hand and jammed the screwdriver up into his elbow. Red Ned’s face contorted in agony and he gave a horrendous groan. LaShawn kicked him in the ribs twice, yanked the screwdriver from his elbow, and then gave him a full-force palm strike in the nose that lifted him off his feet and threw him onto his back.
“Come on, LaShawn, let’s go!” I yelled as I neared.
LaShawn nodded. As Red Ned rolled over and got to his knees, LaShawn ran over and picked up the scythe. He marched up to Red Ned and raised the scythe back like a hockey stick. I ran past but could not take my eyes from what was about to happen. Red Ned, kneeling and wounded, looked up at LaShawn and sneered a bloody sneer. There was a swift, shiny glint and a metallic crack—a bear trap fell on Red Ned’s head and snapped shut at his neck, almost decapitating him. LaShawn swung the scythe through Red Ned’s arm and side and lodged it at his belly button. He left the blade stuck and ran to help me—my knees had buckled, and I had fallen over at the shocking sight. I almost fainted. Lying there on my back for a few seconds, with footsteps racing near, I saw high above me a sweet red light hovering like a huge dragonfly. With a whoosh it floated up and away, and Rory’s face appeared. A second later another Rory face joined it, looking down at me.
“Give me a hand,” said one Rory to the other.
The two Rorys and LaShawn helped me up and we ran across the far side of the yard to the shed, behind which yet another Rory was taking shelter. I leaned over and vomited a little bit.
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