A SHORT STORY BY THOMAS RUEHLE

Damned vegetation!” muttered Jim Brandon, Space Cadet, as he slashed a narrow tunnel through the dense jungle with his machete. “Just my luck,” he thought to himself as he swung the blade tiredly at the seemingly impenetrable undergrowth ahead. “It’s my first patrol to the outer planets and I’ve managed to misjudge my minimum orbital velocity, thus crashing my ship into this sea of nylon plants.”

He stopped the almost mechanical swing of his arm; he was sweating profusely and decided to rest awhile to reconsider his position. It was a bad situation all around, he decided. He had only enough survival rations for two weeks and no weapons other than his machete and the meagre protection offered by his spacesuit. His situation was soon to get much worse.

Many things on the planet disturbed him—the tough, white, nylon plants, the stationary sun which gave off no heat and blinked on and off in no apparent pattern, and the frequent earthquakes, some quite strong others only a low rumbling vibration. He pondered each of these points separately then as a whole. There seemed to be no common link between them so he forgot about them. None of these phenomena could have prepared him for the sound which suddenly broke the silence.

SPREEEEEEEK!

The noise was so loud and high-pitched that Jim was forced to place his hands over the ear cups on his helmet. The sounds stopped abruptly but were immediately replaced by an earthquake of enormous strength. The earth seemed to move like an ocean of waves under his feet and he was thrown madly through the jungle. He was knocked senseless before the quake ended.

When he came back to consciousness, he found his arms and legs hopelessly ensnared in the tangle of white sinewy plants all about him. As he looked upwards he noticed vaguely that something was falling from the sky. At a distance, it looked like snow and he congratulated himself on the foresight of wearing his spacesuit. However, as the white mass quickly approached he realized with growing fear that it was not snow…it was foam. He quickly switched to his internal oxygen supply as he waited to be covered.

The storm only lasted several seconds but he was covered by several inches of the sticky substance.

“Well, this is it, chum,” Jim thought to himself. “You’ve only got six hours of oxygen left and after that’s gone you’re going to suffocate under all this foam.”

While he was pondering these gloomy thoughts, he noticed that the foam on top of him was quickly changing to a powder. Now Jim was covered only by a thin layer of fine, white dust. He shook his head violently in an attempt to clear his face plate. He still was hopelessly ensnared in the plants but was relieved that he could see again. Off in the distance, however, he began to hear a loud whining sound approaching.

The sound came slowly closer and became progressively louder, until it became a horrible sucking, tornado-like cacophony. Suddenly, Jim could see the creature right above him.

It had a long, tube-like neck, which glistened like polished silver in the blinding sunlight. The far end of the neck was directly above him. The neck ended in a wide, cavernous mouth which was surrounded by poisonous-looking bristles.

Jim shuddered as the mouth passed over him. During the last few seconds of consciousness left to him, as he was lifted into the mouth by its suction, he thought of how much the swirling powder reminded him of a Terran snowstorm.

“Oh! My beautiful, new, white shag carpet!” Mrs. Shaw wailed, “It’s ruined.”

She turned to the exterminator and inquired, “Did you get him? Did you kill the beastie that was chewing holes in my carpet?”

The exterminator briefly looked up from his work.

“Well, if that TRT-7 bug killer didn’t get him,” he said blandly, as he emptied the contents of the vacuum cleaner into a metal box, “this electric incinerator will.”

Then he flipped the switch.

 

From the E. L. Crossley literary magazine The Termination 79, 1979.