The Ecphorizer

Beware the Mail
Rita Laws

Issue #64 (March 1987)

The mysterious virus arrived, innocently enough, in a letter. It had been sent by the West-coast editor of a small but national health magazine, of all things. The rest of the contents were of a more positive nature: "...your article will be published in our next issue...thank-you..." and a check for seventy-two dollars and twenty- seven cents.

The young mother felt fine at first, even better than that; her very first writing effort would be published, and for money! The virus found a perfect host in her and multiplied rapidly. Within days, every symptom was manifesting.

Almost immediately, she bought a notebook, filled it, and bought another. A new ribbon for the antique Smith-Corona was followed too quickly by the credit card purchase of an electric typewriter, complete with correct-o feature. Her husband worried but remained silent, hoping the condition was temporary. At first, the kids were delighted as they now had only one parent nagging them to change clothes and brush their teeth.

The disease took over, infiltrating her brain, destroying reason. Non-fiction, fiction, science fiction, fantasy, poetry, even a haiku or two, rolled off her typewriter night and day. Writing became her obsession, the mailbox, her life.

The first letter of rejection didn't bother her, perhaps because of the unreasoning euphoria resulting from the sickness of the published. But the tenth one left her confused, number twenty, worried and twenty five, tearful. The typing pace slowed. She noticed how much the kids had grown lately.

Then, a literary journal accepted a twelve-line poem, causing the illness to worsen when it had almost been in remission.

A dozen slips later, her head started to clear again.

With supreme effort, she was finally able to look her husband in the eye and admit she was not well.

The idea for a cure came as she slept. The next day, she was on the first plane for San Francisco and waiting, as her first editor arrived for work.

They settled into his office as the elderly man remarked kindly, "Yes, I remember your manuscript; a fine piece of non-fiction."

"No, it wasn't," she growled angrily. "It was garbage! And we both know you wanted it only because you were desperate to fill the space. Isn't that so?"

The surprised editor was forced to motion his agreement. Shaking his head 'no' would have been easier , what with her chokehold, but not prudent.

She released the terrified little man only to present him with strange gifts; a half-foot thick bundle of rejection letters tied with string, and an electric typewriter in a battered black plastic case. "That," she said with triumphant satisfaction, "should be worth about seventy-two dollars and twenty-seven cents."

"I am sure of it," he nodded again.

"This makes us even," the former author concluded calmly. "But, if you ever buy anything else from me again, I'll hunt you down and push this typewriter, case and all, right up your nose!"

Cured at last, and feeling great, she headed for home, family and sanity. Little did she know that waiting for her there, in the mail-box, was a letter from a science fiction monthly. Inside she would find a friendly note from its editor, a check for fifty-eight dollars and eighty-five cents, and the invisible "Bacillus Hugo," a deadly cousin of the virus. 

RITA LAWS, who won a Grand Prize in our 1986 Ecphorizer Awards competition, just adopted a sibling group of three, bringing her family to eight. "I may have to stop writing for a while..." she observes.

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