The Enchanted Duplicator

by Walter Willis and Bob Shaw

Chapter 9

In Which Jophan Encounters The Hucksters

In a few minutes he was standing, breathless with excitement rather than exertion, at the very edge of the jungle. Before him he saw a broad well-surfaced road which ran gently through a fertile plain, towards where in the far distance gleamed the spires and towers of a splendid city. A few yards ahead of the point where he was standing a myriad of tracks such as the one he had travelled converged together to make the road, as countless tiny tributaries form a great river. Along these paths as Jophan watched, other Neofen came running with glad cries, to dash along the road in the direction of the shining city.

Mindful of the unseen perils to which such over-eager Neofen had fallen victims on a previous occasion Jophan resolved to be on his guard, and followed the others more soberly.

It soon became obvious that he was approaching civilisation. Although the city itself was still far away there were great hoardings in the fields by the side of the road covered with brightly-coloured advertisements from various establishments in the city. Jophan read each of these, impressed despite himself at the attractions they had to offer.

While he was staring at a particularly large and brilliant hoarding he was startled to hear what sounded like a cry of pain from behind it. Vaulting the low fence by the side of the road, Jophan ran quickly behind the hoarding. There, running around in little circles and uttering heart-rending cries of anguish, was one of the Neofen he had seen that morning. Jophan was horrified to see the change which had come over him. His once ruddy face had taken on a dreadful pallor, and his body was emaciated almost beyond recognition. Before Jophan could reach him the neofan collapsed on the ground and began to moan piteously.

Jophan ran and knelt by his side. The Neofan looked up at him wanly. "Too late . . ." he murmured, ". . . dying . . . don't buy . . ." His lips continued to move but no sound came forth.

"Don't buy what?" asked Jophan anxiously.

The Neofan summoned up his last reserves of strength. ". . . tin bug," he whispered. Then his eyes closed and he ceased to breathe. Jophan saw that he was dead and consigned his soul to the Happy Fanning Ground. Then, tenderly, he commenced to arrange the body in a more seemly position.

No sooner had he raised the Neofan's shoulders from the ground than Jophan started back in horror. There, on the back of the corpse, was clamped a hideous leech-like creature, bloated with the life-blood of its victim. Aghast, Jophan dropped the body and stumbled back to the road.

So stunned was he by the horror of what he had just seen that it was some time before Jophan had recovered himself sufficiently to resume his journey. Even then he was still worried and perplexed as to the meaning of the Neofan's warning, for so far in his travelling along the road he had seen no establishment where anything might be bought.

This last problem was soon solved when in a few moments he rounded a slight bend in the road. He had arrived at a crossroads where, among a small forest of hoardings there clustered a group of hucksters" stalls. They were heaped with gaily coloured and attractive objects, and behind each stall stood a huckster loudly proclaiming the merits of his wares.

As Jophan walked past, one of them accosted him ingratiatingly. "Greetings, young sir," he said, rubbing his hands together. "Might I make so bold as to enquire your name and your destination?"

"My name is Jophan," said Jophan guardedly, "and I am on my way to Trufandom to obtain the Magic Mimeograph and produce the Perfect Fanzine."

"Then I have just the thing for you," exclaimed the huckster. "It is a long journey on which you have embarked, and a lonely one. Why not take one of these adorable little pets to beguile the tedious hours?"

With these words he held up a transparent case in which reposed a captivating jewel-like creature resembling a ladybird, gaily coloured and beautiful to look upon. Its appearance so fascinated Jophan that his hand went involuntarily to his pocket. "What do you call it?" he asked, in a last effort at caution.

"It's a Kolektinbug," said the huckster, holding out his hand for Jophan's money.

With the meaning of the Neofan's warning now made hideously clear to him, Jophan backed away from the deadly little creature and its insidious temptation. "No, thank you," he said, "I . . . I've changed my mind."

Pursued by the curses and imprecations of the thwarted hucksters, Jophan continued steadfastly on his way to Trufandom, pausing at one of the less pretentious establishments to replenish his provisions. -

This version is from GHUTENBERG'S BHIBLE -- Section 7-b (Appendix B) -- Copyright © 1994 by Greg Hills. All rights reserved.

All rights to the original material is retained by the authors.