(Written by my brother, Matthew MacKenzie, and originally published in Tesseract Magazine in the early 1980s)
I have a terrible fear of plumbing. If you think this is the fear of an amateur who cannot tell a bolt from a bowl, you’re all wet. The tale I am about to relate is not some pipe dream from my untapped unconscious mind, but an actual, draining experience.
My academic background as a high school dropout, combined with the perceived necessity to outdo my brother, and established lawyer with a private practice, made me an ideal candidate for the profitable profession of plumbing, for which academic background is academic anyway. After six months of vocational training, which was rigorous enough to qualify as vacational training, I was hired by the prosperous plumbing company, Bill’s Bills.
My present fear of that profession stems from my first experience as a plumber. I had been dispatched by the controller to the residence of a Mrs. Lisa Fisher, who was reporting problems with one of her toilets. I drove to the appropriate residence in my Billmobile, and Mrs. Fisher introduced both herself and the appliance in question.
The Fisher residence was a large place, with wide rooms which could have afforded them the space to spread out in what seemed an arbitrary arrangement. Even the bathroom containing the ailing toilet was large and open, with plants guarding the view through the windows, a fan to circulate out the steamy air, and a hot tub which I looked upon with tremendous professional interest. The toilet, other than being unflushed, looked perfectly fine; there was no water splashed on the floor, no untidy bowl mess at all.
I decided to plunge right into the problem (so to speak). “Let’s see what the problem is here,” I said with professional nonchalance, pressing the lever on the toilet. Mrs. Fisher began to object in a shrill voice, but too late. The toilet erupted, just as I was at ground zero. In the aftermath I noticed that the plants would need no further watering that week. “Let’s… try another approach.”
I leaned down to inspect the systems of the tank, preparing to faucet open, but stopped with a start when I noticed two liquid eyes staring up at me from the bowl. On closer scrutiny (at greater distance), an entire face resolved. (Although I cannot remember it having ever solved the first time. Perhaps it had done so, but then dissolved, leaving no trace.) Because it was made up of a nearly transparent liquid, the fact was vague, but I could make out two dark, watery eyes and two long, combed sets of whiskers on either side of a wide, animal nose. Even with my background in plumbing, it was a wrenching sight.
“What the [BEEP] is that?” I asked Mrs. Fisher. (I have been known to spontaneously produce beeping sounds from an early age.)
“I don’t really know. It’s been appearing there off and on for the past week. As you can imagine, I refuse to use this toilet when something is watching. This is the main reason I called you in. The thing appeared this morning, and hasn’t moved since.”
“You could consult me on the matter,” said a gurgling voice from the toilet.
“OK then, what the [BEEP] are you?”
“Since you finally decide to ask, I am an otter. In fact, I am a liquid otter from Venus. You otter know these things, earthling.”
“Well, I don’t.” I turned to Mrs. Fisher and asked, “What kind of a stupid joke is this, anyway?” but she had already fainted. So I turned to the otter. “What kind of a stupid joke are you, anyway?”
“An invasion is no laughing matter, Earthling.”
I reached down and pressed the lever. In one fluid motion, the toilet went flush. The otter was still there. In one fluid motion, my face went flush.
“You, Earthling, are just asking to be shrunk. You are a nitwit.”
“I’m sorry, Venusian, I don’t shrink in the wash. And you are a drip.”
“True, technically very true. But we still plan to invade your planet. We have an especially fun fate in store for your country,” he alliterated.
“Well, since I’m dumb enough to be talking to a watery otter from Venus who showed up in a toilet bowl, I may as well be dumb enough to ask how you’re gong to invade.”
“Splendid! Wonderful, how you Earthlings always catch on to the plot lines so quickly. We will destroy your country by applying our reduction rays to your supply distribution bases. During after-hours, of course. We aren’t primitives.”
“To our what? Water you talking about?”
“Your stores, Earthling. Sears! Safeway! That sort of thing. We take great joy in using supply centers for target practice with our shrink rays. All the merchandise squeezes out the windows as they shrink.”
“So what do you do when you’ve shrunk them all? And what if we pour Draino on you? Or radioactive waste?”
“Oh, that kind of junk goes right through us Venusians. You might be able to steam a few of us, which would be a pain in the gas, but any plan by Earth to defeat Venus simply won’t hold water. Actually, though, we do have a few problems once we’ve shrunk all of a planet’s distribution centers. We often get bored and go home.”
“So then you plan to leave?”
“We shall probably have to. Many Venusians generally congregate to one planet at a time, to join in the target practice. But we quickly run out of distribution centers to reduce. Imagine hundreds of thousands of Venusians just sitting around with nothing amusing left to do. You would see a water otter, everywhere, and not a shop to shrink.”