[an error occurred while processing this directive] ZEPHYR Magazine

                              T H E
                           Z E P H Y R
                  __     M A G A Z I N E
                 Issue #26                 9-4-86
            A weekly electronic magazine for users of 
                        THE ZEPHYR II BBS 
                    (Mesa, AZ - 602-894-6526)
                owned and operated by T. H. Smith
                    Editor - Gene B. Williams 
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                            (c) 1986

   Being a writer by profession, there is a fairly steady flow of 
questions from people who would like to give it a try. One of the 
most common questions asked has always puzzled me. "How do you 
get ideas?"
   I have a stock answer for that. "How can you NOT get ideas?"
   Ideas are all around you - flooding you from the moment you 
wake up to when you fall asleep, and again through your dreams. 
There is never (or should never be) a lack of ideas.
   When I was teaching creative writing, the same question came 
up often enough that I developed a technique. I'd have the 
students close their eyes, swing an arm all around, then point 
at random. Whatever they pointed to when they opened their eyes 
was the subject. The exercise was to start working up ideas about 
that subject.
   Try it.
   Say your finger ends up pointing to the clock on the wall. 
You've now got the endless topic of time, plus the mechanism of 
the clock, or the history of the clock, and so on and so on and 
so on and so on. It takes a few tries before you get the exercise 
down, but it works if you're ever lacking an idea for a open 
ended theme for school, or whatever.
   Well . . . 
   I've been using that exercise for quite a few years, but only 
in class as a demonstration. So for this week's issue I thought 
I'd pull it on myself. Beforehand I've decided that I'll limit 
it to a piece of fiction - science fiction since that's what most 
readers seem to prefer. The rest will be random choice, both to 
show you that the technique works, and for me to have some fun 
exercising my imagination. No editing allowed. Just straight out 
and as fast as I can type - so forgive errors and repetition. 
Consider this an experiment.
   Eyes closed now .
   My finger ended up pointing to a little black beetle on the 
floor. So we'll call this week's issue . . . 
   Bugs! How he hated bugs!!!
   God, they were everywhere. During the day they sucked on his 
sweat. At night they kept him awake by trying to turn him into 
a one course dinner.
   He grabbed at another, then rolled it angrily between his 
fingertips. Almost instantly he knew he'd made a mistake - for 
the hundredth time. An invisible cloud of odor burst forth, which 
both threw him into a fit of sneezing and coughing and seemed 
to attract new swarms of the pests. 
   Within seconds he was nearly out of control. Between the coughing 
and sneezing, it was difficult to catch his breath. When he did, 
ended up swallowing one of the bugs. Countless others bit into 
him with an unmatched fury. And for each one he swatted and 
smashed the swarm grew.
   He screamed - as best he could with so little breath - gagged 
on a bug that had lodged in his throat - and ran. It was beyond 
his comprehension how it could happen, but just ten feet away 
from the dense, hot jungle with its six-legged denizens was a 
pond of ice water. It seemed bottomless and shoreless, as he'd 
found out in previous escapes.
   He dived in. The shock hit him as though he'd been tossed from 
a sauna into a frozen lake. It took away what little breath he 
had left. Desperately he fought the water to get his head into 
the air again. A large swarm of the insects floated in the air 
just at the edge of the pond, as though waiting for him to be 
more considerate and come back.
   With his skin and body still protesting violently against the 
abuse it was getting, and burning with an itch caused by a reaction 
between something in the water and the bites, he gently plucked 
away the clinging bugs that were chewing on his flesh, pushed them 
beneath the water, and crushed them. Tiny bubbles of gas burst at 
the surface, irritating his nose and lungs again. Twice a fit of 
coughing caused him to lose the rythym of treading water and sink, 
which in turn caused him to take in a breath of the salty tasting 
water, which in turn caused a new bout of coughing and choking, 
which in turn . . . 
   The bubbles of crushed beetles seemed to be stirring the cloud 
of bugs at the pond's edge. A few ventured out over the hunks of 
ice and almost immediately dropped as though stunned.
   One struggled in the icy water, trying to swim towards him. 
He slapped at it, trying to drive it deeper into the cold. Its 
last dying effort was to bite into his palm. Instantly the 
dreadful itching increased, not just at the bite but all over 
his body. 
   No sooner had he begun to recover from the assault of the bugs 
when he felt in inevitable chewing from the creatures hidden in 
the water. He cursed and fought his way onto a a chunk of floating 
ice. The water around him seethed with unseen creatures that bit 
and chewed against the ice in frustration at having been robbed 
of a meal.
   The bath of ice water chilled him right through the flight 
suit. A blast of hot air from the non-shore kept hitting him, 
making him feel like a weenie on a barbeque but with ice cubes 
glued to the other side. 
   Hot-cold; bit and half-eaten; gasping for breath.
   All he had to do was to hop back into the ice water, let the 
creatures there chew off another layer of his skin, climb onto 
the land, let the bugs there get at him, and make his way across 
the 100 yards to his ship. Once inside he'd be safe and could 
take off for home. 
   It sounded easy, and he'd tried again and again to make that 
football field run. After two days of the constant torture with 
no food other than bugs that had zipped down his throat, and no 
water other than the putrid pond swallowed while half drowning, 
it was tempting to forget trying to get back to safety. Two days 
without sleep. A single blast from the weapon at his hip would 
end his misery. For the hundredth time that day he reached. 

   Landing had been easy. The onboard computer systems made sure 
of a soft set-down. From the viewscreens the planet seemed to be 
a literal paradise. Chemical analysis of the atmosphere showed 
it to be slightly rich in oxygen, but otherwise perfect. Not a 
trace of pollutant. Biological testings showed an abundance of 
life - primarily insect - but no harmful microbes. 
   The perfect place! And he was the one to find it!!! He'd be 
famous. More important, he'd be rich. By the revised laws of 
salvage, he could lay claim to the entire planet, then sell it 
in parcels at his leisure, while remaining as the proverbial 
king, lord and master.
   It looked perfect. All tests showed it to be perfect. Being 
a cautious sort, he ran all tests twice - some of them three 
times - before stepping outside. At the exit platform he had 
even gently lifted the face plate to take a cautious whiff. The 
air had been clean and good. He had taken a wonderful deep 
breath such as no human had taken since the early 1800s - if 
then. A little warm, perhaps, but his clients would adjust.
   Still cautious and fully armed, he descended to the surface. 
It was slightly spongy beneath his feet, like walking on moss or 
on thick, expensive carpet. The plants gave off a perfume that 
no factory could hope to duplicate. It made him feel full, good 
and very much alive.
   In the euphoria of walking on solid ground after months in 
dead space, and the euphoria brought about by thoughts of 
becoming one of the richest men in the universe from this 
discovery, he failed to notice that there was a nearly total 
lack of sound. 
   There was a very soft and constant buzz off in the background, 
accompanied by the gentle bubbling of water. Those he noticed - 
or rather didn't notice, since they produced deep in his mind 
memories of peace and quiet and tranquility. The lack of other 
sounds - the songs of birds - rang an alarm, but one too deep 
inside to be of immediate importance. 
   A small black beetle had skidded across the air and had 
landed on his bare hand. Being cautious, he brushed it off - a 
little too hard. A musky odor came forward as the beetle was 
crushed under his hand.
   A short distance away he could see a pond. Water, he hoped. 
If this lush gardenspot also had a ready supply of clean, clear 
water, his fortune would automatically double. 
   He glanced down at his weapon to be sure that it was fully 
charged. People just didn't find a true paradise. Lurking in 
that jungle could be any manner of deadly beast. Even the 100 
yard walk to the pond could be a quick journey to a grave for a 
planet explorer.
   He could hardly resist the urge to stroll - saunter - to the 
pond. He almost expected to see Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Mark 
Twain all sitting beside the pool with pipes in their teeth and 
wicker poles edging out over the water, all softly humming 
contentedly to themselves.
   A perfect planet. God, was he ever going to be rich!!!
   He never made it to the pond. The first attack of insects 
caught him while he was 50 yards away - the halfway mark. There 
were maybe 20 or 30, all coming in like miniature Spitfires. 
He swatted and slapped and squeezed - a defense that released 
the insectile vapor and brought on a session of coughing that 
dropped him to his knees. 
   A few more came as he approached the pond, then more and more 
and more and more, until he found himself turning into the 
proverbial whirling dervish. 
   Under the continuingly violent onslaught he stumbled closer 
and closer to the pond. Vaguely he recognized the cold, and 
that the white chunks in the water could be nothing but ice. But 
all that mattered at the moment was to get free of the growing, 
biting swarm.
   He hit the water and was instantly shocked but its cold. Then 
the itching hit, followed quickly by the nibbling at his body 
from beneath the water. Where the beetles on the land had taken 
delicate morsels from his skin, the underwater creatures showed 
a more ravenous appetite. In a few spots he could see tiny 
trickles of red blending in with the more clear water. 

   Just 100 yards. A decent sprinter could make that distance 
in 15 seconds. He was no athlete, but knew that he could do that 
distance in 20 seconds or less.
   Jeez. Just 20 seconds from relief. But each climb from the 
water meant an instantaneous assault, which meant a plunge 
back into the water, which meant an even more vicious assault. 
How are you supposed to brace up for a physical effort when a 
second or two into that effort someone starts sticking you 
with hot needles tipped with itching powder?
   Slowly he paddled the miniature iceberg back to the edge 
of the pond, being careful to keep just off the shore and out 
of reach of the swarm. In desperation more and more of the 
flew out over the water, only to be stunned by the wall of cold 
and drop into the water. The melting block of ice on which he 
crouched frothed at the edge as the creatures beneath fed in 
a frenzy on the insects that fell into their reach.
   His body hurt. His lungs hurt. His head hurt. His stomach was 
completely empty. He was more miserable than he'd ever been in 
his life before. Two days of this was two days more than anyone 
should have to endure. He was quite ready to take on a 30 foot 
long sabertooth or a 20 ton tyranesaurus. That would have been 
easy. His blaster was useless against the steady stream of 1/8th 
inch long beetles - like taking a .44 magnum up against an ant 
hill, with each shot doing little more than exposing more and more 
of the pests, and getting them royally pissed. That .44 could 
kill an attacking rhino, but would be useless against the ants. His 
blaster could vaporize a whole building, but was little more than 
a stimulate to the enemies he faced here.
   He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, trying to 
shake away the fatigue without much success. Slowly and carefully 
he took a number of deep breaths, feeling as though he was 
trying to prepare himself for a record dive in the ocean. One 
last time he scratched his body in hopes of reducing the ever 
increasing itching. Then he leapt for the shore.
   The chunk of ice slid beneath his feet. All at once he was 
assailed from above and below. His face and hands were attacked 
by the insects of the land while his feet and legs were being 
chewed by whatever was beneath the surface of the water.
   Still holding his breath he clambored up, ripping plants 
from the soil. His skin felt as though it was being ripped off, 
one layer at a time. Time and again he resisted the urge to 
swat and crush. 
   Then he was on his feet and running. At 30 yards he stumbled and 
took in a mouthful of dirt. God, even the dirt was alive with the 
things. They bit on his lips and crunched into his gums. He 
flopped onto his back and began vaguely aware of the acid odor 
of insects that had been crushed beneath his body. 
   Up again. He ran, always fighting the urge to swat and kill. 
The port was just 10 yards ahead. He fingered the trigger on his 
belt to open the door and stood for the hundred years of waiting 
while his flesh disappeared for the door to open and the ramp 
to descend. The faceplate at the base was useless. His face was 
already covered to the point where it was difficult to see.
   At the top of the ramp, and still walking, he swatted with a 
vengeance. Let the crushed beetles bring on new swarms. Fine. No 
problem. He was safe.
   He slammed the button to close the door. Then, just before 
he opened the inner door he regained presence of mind and instead 
signaled the sterilization sequence. It wasn't pleasant, except 
for the fact that he could watch the insects drop off of his body 
and onto the floor where they struggled in a non-pain pain of 
   He stripped off his flight suit and gleefully crushed the 
few remaining beetles. His body was a reddish blight of pimples 
and sores, and itched as though he'd taken a 3-month long bath 
in poison oak. Nude, he jumped up and down on the flight 
suit and hollered. 
   "Die! Die!!! DIE!!!!!!!!"
   Satisfied, he hit the switch to allow him entrance into the 
main ship. Once inside he flooded the entrace compartment with 
a series of deadly gases and fluids, then flushed the entire 
compartment again and again back onto the planet - thinking 
happily the entire time of the effects of the chemicals on the 

   After a long antiseptic shower and bath in soothing balm, he 
returned to the viewing plate. With a slight smile he dug out 
his camera and snapped off photographs of his newfound paradise. 
Then he tore off computer printouts of the readings taken of 
the atmosphere and conditions. The entire batch went into the 
the processing shoot, where it could be transformed into the 
digital signals that would be beamed across space to record his 
   A paradise should bring at least $50,000 an acre. 
   God was he going to be rich! 
   Rich enough to disappear before the new colonists could find 
Until Next Time
   That was kinda fun! I honestly had no idea of what was going 
to happen next, and just let it flow along on its own. I haven't 
done that in years. 
   For those keeping track, the story was started at 5:15. It's 
now 6:47. So once again, you're just gonna have to forgive and 
forget the errors that creep in.
   My question for you is - is this story worth the time to go 
back through for an edit job and eventual submission? Or does 
it completely stink? (Be honest!!!)
Next time around?  I don't know. Maybe this kind of thing is 
popular among the readers? Maybe I should do it again? I had a 
ball doing it, but there are other things that can be done 
with the magazine. (Besides, maybe next time my finger will end 
up pointing at a roll of paper towels. Sheesh! What kind of 
story can I do about paper towels?)
   DO let me know, either here on the magazine board or in 
private mail. Comments, criticisms (intelligent ones), questions 
and so forth are always welcome.

Zephyr Magazine is © Gene Williams. All rights reserved.