Our story begins a long time ago in the city of Baghdad where there lived Ajeeb and Ali Bubba, the two sons of the newly installed Iraqi president. Ajeeb, the younger son, had shown a talent for making a profit from the time he was a little boy. He went on to marry a little American girl, the daughter of a wealthy government contractor, and upon the death of her father, Ajeeb assumed complete control of the business, making him one of the richest men in all of the country.
Ali Bubba, however, was an embarrassment to the family. His one talent was that he could run very fast for his age. But he had no talent for business, and didn’t have the sense that Allah gave a goose. For most of his life, he had frittered away family money on whores and a hashish addiction. Nevertheless, Ali Bubba had become a favorite among the wealthy oil men at the Aladdin Country Club, for, after all, he was the son of the Iraqi president. Through their generosity he was able to support his family very well. They found him not to be an unlikeable fellow, encouraged him to amend his wanton life style as a reborn Zoroastrian, and convinced him to run for office where they could make use of him for their everlasting gains.
Then, one day, while Ali Bubba pondered as best he could his political ambitions, he went for a long run on the outskirts of Baghdad along the Tigris. As usual, he became lost, and at a point where the land became very rocky, he began to hear voices. Conscious of the unsettling times of the land, he was cautious and moved higher upon the rocks to hide and observe as the voices came nearer. In a moment there materialized a large group of men. Ali Bubba counted forty men in all, for he could count very well--all the way to a hundred. Each man carried a crate with the marking, CAUTION: EXPLOSIVES, and Ali Bubba noticed that they seemed to be led by a man they called Al Nu Kli-ur.
Ali Bubba thought this man to look a lot like the picture on the back of his cereal box--a much-feared leader of a terrorist organization, and in his heart, he immediately felt this group of men to be evil. But he was not afraid, for he had served as a part-time weekend officer in the People’s Guard Reserve, and as has been noted, he could run very fast for his age.
The group came to a halt while the man they called Al Nu Kli-ur approached a gigantic boulder and began to pronounce the words, “Open says Al Nu Kli-ur,” whereupon the stone rolled away to reveal an opening to a cave. One by one the men marched in, and the stone rolled back in place and sealed them inside the cave.
Ali Bubba had a plan. He would wait until the evil-looking men had left. Then, he would himself say the magic words that the leader had said, and he would enter the cave. Soon, all forty men came out of the cave, having left whatever they had carried inside the cave. “Close, says Al Nu Kli-ur,” the leader pronounced. The stone closed, and the men disappeared into the hills.
As soon as Ali Bubba was sure that it was safe, he crawled down from his hiding place and walked up to the cave. He called the magic words that he had overheard unto the huge stone. “Open, says Al Nu Qu Ler,” he said. He stood back and waited. The stone did not move. Louder, he again called the words, “Open, says Al Nu Qu Ler,” but the stone would not move. Many times Ali Bubba repeated the magic words that he had overheard, but the stone remained in its place.
The sun was beginning to set. Ali Bubba, bewildered, began running back in the direction of the city and eventually found his way. He could not wait to reveal his great discovery to his friends at the country club. Upon entering, he immediately encountered Abul Fasaud who was having a drink at the bar. Abul was an ambitious mid-level appointee within the Palace of the President and a long-time friend of Ali Bubba’s family. Abul greeted Ali Bubba with cheerfulness and soon detected the excitement in his voice. “My friend, please join me in a drink and tell me what is new with you.”
“Maybe just one,” said Ali Bubba. Then, after four pints, Ali Bubba said to Abul, “Abul, can you keep a secret if I tell you?”
“My friend,” said Abul, “I am insulted that you suggest that I could not. Such good friends, are we not?”
Ali Bubba did not hesitate to begin. “I have discovered the massively destructive weapons,” he said.
“The what?” said Abul. “What is it you say you have discovered, my friend?”
Ali Bubba finished off another pint with one last gulp and whispered to Abul. “I’ve found the MDWs.”
“The MDWs,” Abul repeated, with apparent confusion.
“The massively destructive weapons that the Americans have sought for many decades.”
“Oh,” said Abul, trying not to laugh as he realized the Ali Bubba’s seriousness.
“So where have you made this fantastic discovery, may I ask, my friend?”
“In a cave, not far from the city.”
“And what evidence do you have to substantiate your belief that these are what you say they are?” Abul said.
“Now listen up. Here’s the thing,” Ali Bubba said. “Right before my own eyes I saw the terrace.”
“The terrace. The terrace,” Ali Bubba repeated.
“The terrorists?” said Abul.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, the terrace,” said Ali Bubba.
“So what about the terrace, uh, terrorists?” said Abul.
“One of the most-wanted men in the world, I saw him myself. He was leading an army of terrace with crates of MDWs right into the cave.”
“My friend, you must know that the world long ago dismissed the idea that there were ever any MDWs,” said Abul.
“Abul, I saw what I saw, and deep down in my heart I feel that this is the real McCoy.”
Abul, not wanting to antagonize Ali Bubba, nodded to him. “This is great news, Ali Bubba,” he said. “The Americans will make you a very wealthy man, even wealthier than your brother.”
“Hee hee hee,” Ali Bubba smirked.
“Your secret is safe with me,” said Abul. “And it is getting late, my friend. I must go home.”
Abul, however, did not go home. Though he was doubtful of Ali Bubba’s story, he was curious, and he was determined to see this cave for himself. He too fantasized of great wealth if he were to be credited with the discovery of the elusive massively destructive weapons. As Baghdad slept, Abul followed a map to the cave that the drunken Ali Bubba had drawn for him, went up to the cave’s door, pronounced the magic words with perfect enunciation and entered the cave. As he followed his flashlight deep into the cave, Abul was amazed by the number of crates stacked high along the walls. Each was marked, CAUTION: EXPLOSIVES, just as Ali Bubba had said. Then, beginning to doubt his own skepticism about Ali Bubba’s claim of discovery, his heart began to race as he carefully opened a crate to examine its contents. He shone the light on a packing list lying on top, inside. Abul fell onto the floor of the cave and rolled in an uncontainable laughter. The packing list, still in his hand, he reread the words, “Firecrackers, Cherry Bombs, Bottle Rockets.” Ali Bubba had discovered only a huge cache of Class B fireworks for the upcoming anniversary of the Freedom Celebration. When morning came he would share this ridiculous discovery with Ali Bubba’s brother Ajeeb.
In his office overlooking the Road to Mecca Mall, Ajeeb listened to Abul’s news. “You must take me to this cave,” said Ajeeb. He canceled his daily appointments, and together, as they descended in the elevator the towering office building. Ajeeb looked at Abul. “One thing, Abul, what’s this business about the magic words?”
Abul doubled over in laughter. “Simple, my friend. Voice activation.”
They both laughed.
“Ali Bubba is a dumbass,” said Ajeeb.
“Big time,” said Abul.
They went to the cave, said the words and entered. Ajeeb examined the crates and, too, found nothing but fireworks with packing lists. “These are what my brother thinks to be massively destructive weapons?”
“He told me himself, my friend.” Ajeeb only shook his head.
“Ali Bubba’s a dumbass,” said Abul.
“Big time,” said Ajeeb.
Then, as they began to depart the cave, light began to enter the cave as the boulder at the mouth of the cave began to open. Ajeeb saw the man entering in front to be Al Nu Kli-ur, whereupon Ajeeb gave a hearty laugh, for he recognized Al Nu Kli-ur as the famous pyrotechnic and contract electrician with whom he had done business on many occasions. They embraced, and the three returned to Ajeeb’s office where they made a deal.
The plan would be for Abul to convince Ali Bubba to return to the cave with him, retrieve an altered packing list which they would plant and let him humiliate himself when he presented it to the Americans as his proof of his locating the massively destructive weapons. Ali Bubba would be exiled to a prison in Cuba or Texas, and Ajeeb would someday have a clear path to replace his father as president. In exchange for their cooperation, Al Nu Kli-ur and Abul Fasaud would receive high positions within Ajeeb’s administration.
The day soon arrived when Abul persuaded Ali Bubba to go to the cave to collect his evidence of massively destructive weapons.
“But the magic words will not work for us, Abul,” said Ali Bubba.
“We must try my friend,” said Abul.
After arriving at the cave Abul looked on as Ali Bubba called out the magic words. “Open, says Al Nu Qu Ler,” called Ali Bubba, but as before the stone would not budge for him.
Abul, standing back and rolling his eyes, approached the stone. “Let me try,” he said. “Open, Al Nu Kli-ur,” he pronounced, and the stone rolled and they entered the cave.
Ali Bubba placed a small limb at the foot of the cave opening to provide more light inside, and the two moved deep inside the cave where the crates were stored.
“See? Just as I said,” said Ali Bubba, “crates and crates of massively destructive weapons.”
“You are a hero,” said Abul. “Your fate of riches is sealed evermore.” Appearing to use caution, Abul began to pry open one of the crates.
“Be careful,” whispered Ali Bubba.
“Look,” shouted Abul. “It is a packing list, listing massively destructive weapons, just as you said, for you to present to the Americans as proof.”
As Abul handed over the phony document to Ali Bubba, they heard the small limb crushing from the weight of the heavy stone door. The fast runner that he was for his age, Ali Bubba managed to dash out into the daylight from deep inside the cave, but the slow and rotund Abul was sealed in darkness inside.
As Ali Bubba tried in vain to use the magic words to reopen the cave door, inside Abul could not find his way around in the darkness.
He lit a match.
The explosion was heard as far away as Kirkuk, as the rocks imploded in a rumbling sound that had not been heard since the Americans’ shock and awe campaigns of the liberation. But the fast afoot Ali Bubba escaped injury and made his way back to Baghdad with the valuable document.
In the bunker basement of the Office of the American Development Board for a Better and Securer Iraq, Ali Bubba presented himself to retired General J. W. Jim Bob Smackover, director of the Board. “General, that explosion you just heard was the massively destructive weapons, and I have the proof here in my hand.” Ali Bubba proudly handed over the document.
The director looked over the paper just handed to him, made a phone call to America, and in a matter of minutes, the Americans were dancing in the streets, and all across America the media was reporting that the long missing massively destructive weapons had been found and destroyed, sealed forever within the deep and rocky guts of a distant cave. The double-crossing Abul Fasaud was dead, and from that day forward, Ali Bubba’s riches grew far beyond what he was able to count.
After Ali Bubba’s daddy’s health took a sudden and mysteriously fatal turn, Ali Bubba rode his heroic status to the presidency and built a new Palace on the Isle of Edena as a weekend getaway with best wishes from the grateful Americans. He married a quiet archivist from Karbala; shared his wealth with all his family, even his jealous and bitter brother, Ajeeb; and through the graces of Zoroaster and the Americans, Ali Bubba settled into a life of everlasting peace, wealth and a sense of worth until he choked to death on a date four years later.
AUTHOR’S HISTORICAL NOTE
The story of “Ali Bubba and the Forty Pyrotechnics” is believed to be a reference to the twenty-first century American invasion and occupation of Iraq. The Americans destroyed Iraq based on pretty darn good intelligence that the Iraqis were about to destroy America and the rest of the world with massively destructive weapons. Many decades of reconstruction followed, but failure to locate the massively destructive weapons forced the Americans to take various measures of action. One was the announcement, posted in every town and in every publication, that the person who could lead the Americans to the long elusive massively destructive weapons would be granted a deed to the Isle of Edena and a lifetime of great wealth.
Henry Brown is a fiction writer living in Memphis. He has been published by various small-press journals and is currently working on a novel set in the Mississippi delta.