By Larry Hodges

Published in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Summer, 1989; Reprinted in German Magazine

***Click on image for full-sized version - see my name on the cover!***



The life of a writer can be pretty hard. Not many people realize that. Most people think that the writer just sits back and types, and presto! A story appears. But it isn't that easy. Take what happened to me when I started writing. I had just graduated with honors from the Aboriginal School for Writers. It looked like I had a bright future ahead, as I rode my flying carpet back to my home in Tanzania. Yes, I'd show the world. I would write a best-selling story that very night. Something with magic, and dragons, and damsels in distress. I couldn't wait to get started.


First, I had to do the necessary preparatory work, so that my final product would be a guaranteed success. I pulled my desk out into the middle of my office, with my computer and printer on it, and then got out thirteen candles from the closet. I spaced them about the desk evenly, as I had been taught, and lit them. This should keep bad spirits from interfering.


Next, I got out a pound of ground beef that I had conjured. It was still fresh and bloody. Gathering it into a mound, I put it next to the computer on a paper plate. Then I recited the words that I had learned in freshman necromancy:


"Owa, Tegu, Siam." I recited this thirteen times, making sure the meaning was clear to all spirits listening. As expected, thirteen geese waddled into the room and honked at me, a side effect of the spell. What the words of the spell actually mean is unknown to mankind, of course, but it does seem to keep agents of the underworld away. Or so I'd been taught. Now all that remained was the sacrifice.


It is well known that evil spirits are nearsighted, and from two paces away, can't tell a guinea pig from a mound of ground beef. So I raised a gold-plated knife (someday I'd be able to afford solid gold, for stronger spells) and plunged it into the ground beef. I screamed out, "Mailoof," and clapped my hands three times.


Now for the easy part. I had taken a class in school called Composition Writing, mostly out of curiosity. I had learned something of how writers used to write, putting words and sentences together by themselves, making it up as they went along. It was archaic. Modern necromancy had solved that problem.


I fished out a few leaves of eucalyptus, and hung them from the ceiling over the computer. I crushed a leprechaun's skull into powder, and tossed some of it about the keyboard. After saying "Diputsebi," I was ready to get to work. My years of study were finally going to pay off.


I sat down at my desk and began to type. It came easy--I didn't have to think about what I was doing. I just typed "jklkjkjkjkjkjk" a few thousand times. It didn't matter. Magic cannot be denied. In a very short time, I had written my first best seller, entitled "B'Mud." I wasn't sure what it was about, but I printed it out on my printer, and sent it off to be published in Egabrag's Magazine as my horoscope had directed. After four years of hard work and labor in developing my skills, it sure seemed easy now. I relaxed and waited for the guaranteed paycheck and literary awards.


I received a package from Egabrag's two weeks later. I ripped it open to see how much I had gotten paid. But all I found inside was a manuscript. My manuscript! I had been rejected! It was impossible! I had sent them a best seller. It could not be rejected, by all the rules of magic. Something had gone wrong. As the rejection slip was a form letter that did not specify the problem, I was thoroughly confused.


I read over the manuscript carefully. Then I called the same story onto my computer's screen, and compared. Sure enough, there had been changes. The story they rejected was not quite the one I had written. The changes were few but subtle, obviously just enough to get the story rejected. I was a victim of black magic.


I heard some tittering. It was coming from the computer. It had been possessed!


Or had it? I got out my trusty Writer's Handbook, and looked up 'Tittering laughter." And there it was, right between "Tides and their influence on professional writers," and "Tizzies, how to stay out of." It was a short column:


TITTERING LAUGHTER: High squeaky voices reveling with glee. Often encountered around delicate machinery. Usually a sign of gremlins. Other possibilities include a small tape recording of gremlins hidden by a fairy as a trick, or a snake's hiss, which under the right atmospheric and astrological conditions can sound like a gremlin. For final diagnosis, put peanut butter outside suspected area, and keep watch. If gremlins are present, they will make an appearance. For further information, see GREMLINS.


I turned to the section on gremlins, and read on...


GREMLINS: Small green creatures, about an inch tall, with big noses and high tittering laughter. Found throughout the world, often in delicate machinery. Usually just a nuisance, they sometimes can be quite a problem, as they have a cruel sense of humor, and enjoy practical jokes. They are half mammal and half reptile, and lay cube-shaped eggs, which are laid on engines and other heat-making machinery to keep them warm. Eggs usually hatch in about four weeks. The newly hatched gremlins leave the nest site immediately, looking for machinery of their own. Average lifespan is about five years, although some in the computers at NASA have been known to live and wreak havoc for decades. Although gremlins can ingest food, they have no physical need for it, and cannot be starved to death


A gremlin is a fairly intelligent creature, and can make a good pet if trained properly. Unfortunately, they usually grow up in the wild, and are untrainable as adults. They have an irresistible addiction to peanut butter, and so can sometimes be lured out of household machinery by its scent. It this doesn't work, and their removal is necessary, an exorcism may be required. For more information, see EXORCISM.


I decided that I might as well verify whether I had gremlins or not. I got some peanut butter out of the pantry, and a net from the closet. I put the peanut butter next to the computer, and waited.


A tiny nose stuck out of one of the CD drive and sniffed. I raised the net in preparation. But the gremlin pulled its nose back in, and disappeared. I opened the CD drive and peered in. There was something moving inside, but it was too dark to make out what it was. I got a flashlight, and took a look.


There were five gremlins inside. I could just see their faces. The tiny nose that I'd seen before looked huge on these tiny creatures. When they saw me, they waved and bowed, and thumbed their noses at me. One of them gave me the finger; another mooned me. They were wearing nose plugs! No wonder the peanut butter wasn't working. At the first scent, they must have donned them.


It didn't look good. Getting them out was going to be a real problem, as I knew from Basic Exorcisms. I now wished that I had taken more classes on the subject.


I looked up Exorcism in the handbook. As I feared, it was going to be difficult. I considered getting a professional, but decided I couldn't afford it. I'd have to do it myself. I studied late into the night. I wasn't one to do a sloppy job--I wanted those gremlins OUT!


The next morning I went shopping at the bazaar to get the necessary ingredients, and then went to work. An exorcism is a tricky thing, requiring experience and know-how. At the time, I had neither. Unfortunately, I didn't know that. I had youth and energy, and my adversaries were only an inch tall. And I had my handbook.


I decided to use the marine stare approach. I surrounded the computer with shark's teeth, dried jellyfish and powdered conch shells. Then I sat and stared at the CD drive, unblinking (a little trick I learned in Introductory Uglistics my freshman year). Sure enough, a gremlin stuck his nose out, and then his head, to see what I was staring at. We stared at each other for a moment, his yellow eyes as unblinking as my own. I almost forgot to finish the spell, so hypnotized was I by the gremlin's stare. Shaking my head to clear it, I recited from the handbook: "Ooga, ooga, booga, booga, dooga, dooga, Mudmidog!" The gremlin should have collapsed into dust. Instead, it howled with laughter, and threw a rotten grape, hitting me in the face. I realized it was wearing a lead coat, which protected itself from the spell. As I reached to grab it, the gremlin dived back into the CD drive.


I was dealing with smart gremlins. I would have to use a more powerful method if I ever wanted to get rid of them. After much study, I finally decided on the hypnotic method.


Once again, I read from the book. I didn't realize at the time that reading from a book automatically reduces the power of a spell by two-thirds; otherwise, things might have worked out better.


I read the spell. "Oh mighty Rotide, help me now as I talk to these poor small creatures, who have so unknowingly dropped in where they are not wanted. They could have been welcomed, and loved, but they chose not to be. It is not too late for them, but they must hurry, for time is short.


"I offer them much, both warmth for their eggs and peanut butter for their bellies, but they seem to want neither. Why, I wonder; for it is all they should want. They must hurry, for time is short.


"It is said that they occupy a dangerous spot, that Tfarcevol himself once lived here. It is unfortunate for them, for when he returns, he will destroy them if they are still present. They must hurry, for time is short.


"Oh mighty Rotide, please forgive them. I pray for their souls, for they are due for eternal fire if they stay. They have no time left, as Tfarcevol is almost here. They must be gone, or they will burn as hay in a fire."


I turned out the lights so they couldn't see me, and sat back, ready to net them as they ran out. Something came out right away, and I netted it up. Another came out, and another. It was working! After I had all five, I turned on the lights to examine my quarry.


I found five cockroaches in my net. My discovery was greeted with much tittering from the CD drive. The gremlins stuck their little heads out, just enough so that I could see that they were wearing ear plugs on their laughing faces. I stomped out of the room.


I decided to try the snake approach. I rounded up fifty cobras, and released them into the room. I waited outside for developments. This was a purely physical, nonmagical approach, but it might work. After enough time had elapsed, I peeked inside. All fifty snakes were neatly tied in knots.


So much for the physical approach. I went back to normal necromancy, applying this spell and that. Nothing worked. Finally, exhausted and defeated, I went to bed to the sound of tittering. I lay awake most of the night, pondering what to do. I would never get any writing done while the gremlins were in the computer; it looked like I might have wasted four years of college. I was approaching despair.


I rolled over, and the bed collapsed, throwing me off in the process. I turned on the light, and saw that two legs on one side had been neatly sawed off. I heard tittering in the background. Gremlins!


I went into the kitchen to get a snack, opened the refrigerator, and fell back as a huge basin of cold water fell out on me, drenching me through my pajamas. There was more tittering. I looked about wildly, but couldn't see them. The gremlins had advanced from ruining my stories to full-fledged pranks!


As I opened the door to my room, a bucket of tomato sauce fell on me, drenching me again. More tittering. I looked about, and sure enough, there they were, running down the hallway, back to the computer. I followed.


I saw them jump back into the CD drive. This was too much. I banged my fist on the drive repeatedly, screaming epithets. When that didn't accomplish anything, I picked up the computer and threw it against the wall. Then I jumped on it, over and over, until there was nothing left of what had been their home but crunched metal.


The gremlins had leaped free from the CD drive at some point during my ravings, and were watching me from a safe distance, waving their fingers at me and "tsk tsking." Our eyes met. One of them held up a matchbox. They began to titter.


The gremlin lit a match, and ran to the curtains. Before I could stop him, he had lit them. I dashed over and put the fire out, but all five gremlins now had matches, and they split up, starting fires in every room. Pretty soon, my house was ablaze.


I stood outside, watching my worldly possessions burn up, when the gremlins reappeared. They tittered at me from the lawn, keeping their distance. They had removed the ear and nose plugs, which were presumably burning up in the fire. An idea struck me.


I dashed back into the fire to the cheers of the gremlins, and fought my way through the blazing house to the pantry. Ashes fell on me, and sparks blew about my face. The smoke had almost gotten to me, when I grabbed what I was after. Then I fought my way back out, burning my face and hands.


As I struggled from the fire, covered with soot, the gremlins tittered. I dragged myself to the safety of the sidewalk, and collapsed in exhaustion. The gremlins gathered nearby to titter at me. I grinned at them, and then opened the jar of peanut butter. I held it out for them to smell.


The gremlins stopped tittering and snuffled about, wrinkling their noses until they had pinpointed the source. Then they began advancing on me, with menacing looks. They wanted the peanut butter, and they weren't going to let me keep it from them. I had no intention of doing so.


I rose to my feet and hurled the peanut butter deep into the inferno.


The gremlins watched it disappear with wide eyes, and then looked at each other mournfully. Their noses drooped, and their whole bodies slumped. Then, lifting their noses in a show of pride, one by one they leaped into the fire. A moment later I heard a tittering, and saw their spirits rise above the fire on the way to the afterlife, waving their little hands at me. Their tittering gradually died away as they disappeared into the sky. The smell of peanut butter was in the air.


I had to postpone my writing career while I recouped my losses. I got a job as a waiter at a restaurant, and moved in with my uncle. It took me six months to raise enough money to buy another computer, although once I had it, I sold enough best selling stories my first month to buy a new house. So as you can see, the life of a writer isn't as easy as you'd think.


Well, I think I've typed "jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjk" long enough. I wonder what I've written this time?