I was disturbed from my leisurely pursuit of Leandro’s The Abstractions and Essence of Kaufer’s “Basaltic Culture” As Related to Quantum Mathematics, by the irritating jangle of my telephone. Setting that exquisitely rare and absorbing tome aside, I reached for the phone with one hand, while relighting my pipe with the other—not an easy thing to do, I assure you, as I have very often severely singed my moustache and caused the skin of my face great pain in so doing.
I was not at all displeased to discover that the caller was one Miss Avander, a charming young lady who dwelled alone—and vulnerably, I might add—in a small house a short distance down the avenue from my own. I was somewhat more than acquainted with Miss Avander, as in the past we had spent the long evenings in fascinating and intellectually stimulating conversations, and as these visits had been conducted in both of our homes, I was well familiar with her location.
“Ah, Miss Avander,” I enthused, letting the warmth I felt blend with the fine natural resonance of my voice, “it is indeed enchanting to hear your lovely voice—for indeed it remains lovely even through this awful electrical convenience: the telephone!”
“You are too kind, Mr. Leandro, to a poor, lonely maid such as myself,” Miss Avander argued. “Why, how lucky I am to have one such as yourself for a neighbor.”
“Indeed. And how lucky am I!”
“But, Mr. Leandro, I call to beg from you a favor.”
“Ah, and what might this favor be, madame?”
“Oh, in truth it is no more than an overloaded fuse. The poor thing was simply not strong enough to bear the energy being used by my many electrical appliances; so it burnt out, and I have been plunged into the utter eternal darkness of this place.”
“Miss Avander, you have a delightful way with words.”
“Yes, as you yourself have on occasion noted. But what of the tragically burnt-out fuse? Have you a spare?”
“Indeed yes, I believe I have, Miss Avander—and I shall be entirely delighted to deliver it—in person—to your very door.”
“You are a kind soul, Mr. Leandro.”
“Thank you, Miss Avander. I think I shall now pursue that half-fabled box of fuses which I know lurks somewhere within my house—most probably within a kitchen drawer! Now I shall bid you adieu—”
“But to appear soon at my door, of course!”
“Adieu, then, Monsieur Leandro.”
“Madame,” I firmly but gently reprimanded, “I am not a Frenchman.”
When I had finally uncovered the rumored fuses—buried beneath a clutter of unused tacks and rubber bands—I packed them safely into my pocket, where they thumped reassuringly in that reassuring way in which fuses thump. As I was merely out for a short jaunt through the darkness of the Ruins, I did not tidy myself up in any great manner. But as I expected to be later entertained by Miss Avander—at the completion of my task, of course—I did give my hair a swift combing-through, and apply a bit of my best cologne to certain strategically-located areas of my enviable physique.
Though I had heard rumors that it was the Time of Spawning in the Ruins again, I did not bother to arm myself with anything other than a letter-opener—the same which had been given to me by Miss Avander only a few months before. Though there were possible dangers of being confronted in the Ruins by maniacal, rogue Zhodes or Lymmpospophae in their mating frenzies, it is generally considered against gentlemanly principles (and one must always concern one’s self with principles!) to venture even into dangerous areas armed with anything other than a sharp object which had been the gift of a lady. Pistols at night cannot even be discussed under such circumstances!
Flashlights, too, I find ungentlemanly—so instead I placed a lit candle into an ornate metal holder, and used this as my guiding light. The Ruins, which lie at the utmost bottom of the Subterranean Chasms, have probably never experienced a draught of any natural kind in all their uncounted aeons of existence, and so I feared not that the candle might be extinguished by a gust of wind while I ventured to Miss Avander’s house.
And, so equipped, I stepped out into the fathomless dark, and traced my way down the avenue.
My house was built precisely at the edge of the Ruins, but Miss Avander’s place of residence had been erected in the midst of the Ruins themselves. Thus I set along that antique avenue—through the unimaginable blacknesses of this subterranean world—with but a single candle to light my way. I wondered if I would go mad should my candle blow out, as so many others had done in these depths—and to my dismay I then discovered that I had neglected to bring a single match with me. However, I resolved not to let this hinder me, and I continued without a thought to my personal safety—knowing that Miss Avander sat patiently awaiting me within the Ruins, her home plunged momentarily into darkness. How brave she had sounded on the phone. Certainly I could strive to be half as brave as to walk a short distance without a spare match!
And now the Ruins rose about the ancient avenue, and disappeared into the darkness overhead that the candle’s feeble light could not illuminate. They were like row upon row of black dingy storefronts, leering over the avenue with empty yawning windows. The avenue, I noted, seemed much reduced in size when compared to those prehistoric Ruins.
But I proceeded, undaunted, past those eternally dismal Ruins—being sure not to quicken my step—and came at last to the more ruinous Ruins. Those were jagged pillars —teeth, if you will—that were the remnants of structures more ancient than those of the blocky buildings. They sprang from the ground at irregular but frequent intervals, and the flickering candlelight caused them to leap and caper annoyingly.
Soon, I knew, I would come to Miss Avander’s house. But first, as you shall see, I was to have a not entirely pleasant adventure.
For as I walked through the more disordered Ruins, I looked above and within them, and thus did not see that which caused me to stumble a moment later, almost extinguishing my candle. I set my candle upon the ground, and turned to examine the obstacle in the avenue.
It was a human body, bent at awkward angles, and unpleasantly mangled beyond recognition. Dressed, it was, in a white uniform with black stripes—now dreadfully stained and discolored—which I recognized as the uniform of a newspaper boy. Indeed, as I looked closer, I found that the body was sprawled atop the bag of the carrier. Within this bag I found a single newspaper—mine, as I was the last customer on the boy’s route—bearing the blatant headline: SPAWNING SEASON BEGINS.
It was all very tragic, for the poor boy had died—recently, judging from the date on the paper—in delivering my newspaper. Perhaps if I had canceled my subscription this might never have occurred, for I rarely read the newspaper, and almost never even checked to see if it had been delivered. But then, things are always much simpler in retrospect.
As I rose from the awful lich, I noted the six-taloned claw marks on its arm, and realized the full unpleasantness of the situation. The boy had obviously been killed by a Zhode in its mating frenzy. He should have paid closer attention to the headlines he carried, for all parts of the Chasms—though particularly the Ruins—are exceedingly dangerous during the Time of Spawning.
And that latter thought brought me to immediate alertness, aware instantaneously of my surroundings. There was a low hooting in the Ruins before me. . . and I recognized that hooting as the mating call of the Lymmpospopha!
Instantly my letter-opener was in my hand—and I shivered as the hoot was answered, from behind me, with the high- pitched “Da-li! Da-li!” of the courting Zhode!
With my admirable presence of mind, I turned parallel to the avenue, so that I could watch the Ruins on either side. Shadows moved within, approaching the avenue—and, simultaneously, me. To my left there was a final shriek of “Da-li!” and a huge, swollen Zhode jumped onto the avenue beside me. Thankfully, it didn’t see me immediately, as it was looking for its mate, the Lymmpospopha. And, a moment later, that infamous creature too lumbered heavily onto the path beside me, hooting through the single orifice in its tiny, bulbous head.
However, with the arrival of the Lymmpospopha, my presence could no longer remain a secret. This creature spotted me immediately, and gave an enquiring hoot in my direction, thereby pointing me out to the Zhode, who seemed rather disturbed that I should be observing this annual ritual. Thinking of poor Miss Avander—desperately waiting for my fuses—I slashed out with the letter-opener, and thus removed the Lymmpospopha’s tiny head from its gelatinous “shoulders.”
The poor creature staggered backward into the Ruins, spouting a pale ichor that was not exceedingly pleasant to the nose. Its enraged mate, the Zhode, now leaped at me, so that I was forced to deliver a rather cunningly-placed, fatal stab to its tentacular mass. It, too, fell shrieking into the Ruins, and in the distance I could now hear other things coming to investigate.
Thinking it wise to bring Miss Avander her fuses as swiftly as possible, I grabbed up my candle, smoothed down my hair, and dashed down the impossibly ancient avenue in the direction of that fair lady’s home.
Now imagine my genuine surprise when, approaching Miss Avander’s tiny cottage, I discovered bright lights pouring brightly forth from all her windows—and even a porch light burning cheerily above her red door! I rang the doorbell, thinking it very peculiar that there should be electric bulbs glowing when the fuse had burnt out.
The door at last opened wide, revealing a very lovely Miss Avander dressed in a beautiful blue gown. Needless to say, there were electric lights burning within the house, too.
(And here I must make a very unpleasant statement—for it appears I have, most scandalously, lied to you. Miss Avander had not really burnt out a fuse—and I, you see, had not truly believed her story quite as much as I had hinted earlier. Indeed, I had not even brought fuses with me, for the thumping box in my pocket turned out to contain chocolate bon-bons, and these I duly presented to Miss Avander.)
“Ah, Mr. Leandro,” she smiled, “do come in. Did you have a pleasant journey through the Ruins?”
“Thank you, Miss Avander. As a matter of fact, my journey was very unsettling, for I discovered the corpse of a paper carrier, and have aggravated the spawning hordes without. Even now, I fear, they march upon your home—hoping to destroy us both.”
“Oh, do sit down, Mr. Leandro. What an awful tale. Care for a mint? And what do you suggest we do?”
“Thank you. I suggest that we flee from here, immediately, and return to my house, where I am properly prepared for such an attack. Unless, of course, you happen to have a cache of weapons hidden somewhere?”
“Here, let me help you loosen your coat. No, I fear I have no weapons aside from the letter-opener you gave me last year. But will you not stay?”
“Well, er, now that you bring it up, perhaps I could do with a short rest. We can certainly leave in a few moments, just as easily.”
“I’m glad. . . that you see it in such. . . a manner. . . Mr. Leandro.”
“Yes, I believe a few moments. . . will not hurt. . . Miss. . . Miss. . .”
But then, just as we had begun an evening of fascinating, intelligent discussion, Miss Avander’s front door—the bright red one, you may recall—splintered into pieces. A six-taloned claw smashed through without any regard to the high cost of finely-crafted doors, and withdrew again.
“Well,” said I, “perhaps we would be just as well off to depart immediately. Miss Avander, have you a fresh candle?”
“I’m sorry,” Miss Avander admitted, “I have naught but a flashlight.”
“Well, all right, but you must carry it. And now, out the back exit!”
We hurried through Miss Avander’s home, and she opened wide that narrow door in her kitchen which led—by means of a secret tunnel—through some of the Ruins, and onto the avenue a short distance from Miss Avander’s house. For various reasons, this exit had proved indispensible on certain occasions when Miss Avander had still been “Mrs.” Avander.
We emerged, minutes later, onto the avenue, to see a mob of hooting Lymmpospophae and shrieking Zhodes overwhelming Miss Avander’s tiny home. To our dismay, we were spotted immediately by one member of the crowd, who hooted and drew us to the attention of the others.
“Now, Miss Avander,” I recommended, “we must run—and don’t trip on the newspaper carrier.”
We dashed off down the avenue, while behind us the actions of the spawning things were rechanneled to pursuing us. In a few minutes we came to the blocky, younger Ruins, and though we ran through these as quickly as we could, the sounds of pursuit grew ever louder behind us.
Moments later, we were out of the Ruins, and I saw, in the distance, the lights of my house. We raced up the walkway, flung open the front door, and locked ourselves within. I went immediately to a panel set in the wall beside the door, and flipped on all the outside flood lights—as the Zhodes and Lymmpospophae dislike light of any sort. Through the window I saw figures gathering in the shadows; hoots and cries of “Da-li! Da-li!” came repeatedly to my ears. The lights wouldn’t hold them off for very much longer, and now only my ingenuity—and preparation—would save us.
I found another button-dotted panel, hidden behind one of my more sensitive Leandro originals, and this proved the key to our salvation.
“Miss Avander,” I said, “what I might do is a very ungentlemanly thing, and utterly immoral besides. So I would appreciate it if you would press these buttons in my stead.”
Miss Avander graciously acquiesced, and placed her dainty finger one by one on each of the buttons, and pushed them. And one by one, coincident with the pressing of the respective buttons, there were unpleasant explosions outside in the shadows all around my house.
These were followed by utterly awful thumps on the roof as the hordes without were demolished by my carefully placed explosives, and flung every which way; it took us three days to clean up the resultant, widespread mess. As Miss Avander’s house had been destroyed by the enraged beasts, she remained as a guest in my house—and thus was able to assist with repairs, as well as provide engaging conversation.
We have not since been bothered by Zhodes or Lymmpospophae, and you people inform me that this is because both of these rare species are now extinct.
Certainly, I could not have foreseen that during that particular part of the season, the mass-migration that you call the Influx had begun, thus bringing all members of both species into the Ruins. And I certainly could not have guessed that they would all attack my home simultaneously, and hence be destroyed by my defenses.
Yes, I am sorry that they are extinct—for such an occurrence is always a tragic thing— but how can you blame me for their extinction? After all, it was Miss Avander who pushed the buttons!
* * *
“Spawn of the Ruins” copyright 1977 by Marc Laidlaw. First appeared in Shayol #1 (November 1977), edited by Patricia Cadigan and Arnold Fenner.
This was my first published story worth mentioning. It appeared in the inaugural issue of Shayol, a gorgeous semiprozine created by the illustrious Pat Cadigan and her then-partner Arnie Fenner (later associated with the lauded Spectrum series of contemporary fantasy art books) as well as the amazing Tom Reamy, who tragically died not long after, much too young, leaving us with only a handful of unforgettable stories. It’s funny to look back on this 40 year old story and see a lot of my smart-ass shtick already in place. It’s not too hard to imagine Leandro writing reports of questionable veracity at Black Mesa, for instance. It was graced with an illustration by Tim Kirk, then and now one of my favorite artists in the fantastic field (he went on to design the cool-looking Jules Verne stuff at Disney Sea). Also my first name, for my first appearance in print, was misspelled in huge letters. Arnie was chagrined and made up for it with an elaborate apology in the second issue. For a while I hawked copies of Shayol at the little Laguna Beach shore-side bookshop where I worked after school, Browse About Books; I even sold one copy to local luminary Gregory Benford, which led to our collaboration on what was to become my first professional sale, “A Hiss of Dragon,” to Omni. In the work of fans and amateurs, the professionals are nascent; so much talent, fully fledged and embryonic. Greg Benford was writing his masterful Timescape and other classic works around this time; Pat Cadigan was a few years away from emitting dazzling beams of cyberpunk light. It’s a small world and a dense one. “Spawn of the Ruins” has never been reprinted or reappeared anywhere.