by Reginald Bretnor
from "The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor"
selected and edited by Fred Flaxman
© Story Books, 1997
Although this is one of Bretnor's shortest stories, it has many of the characteristics that distinguish his style: a sense of humor, an efficient use of well-chosen words, and a science fiction element which is closer to fantasy than to science. "Bug-Getter" was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1960. It was also included in "100 Great Science Fiction Short Stories," edited by Isaac Asimov, et. al., published by Doubleday & Co. in 1978, and "Laughing Space: Funny Science Fiction Chuckled Over," edited by Isaac Asimov, et. al., and published by Houghton Mifflin Co. in 1982.
Ambrosius Goshawk was a starving artist. He couldn't afford to starve decently in a garret in Montmartre or Greenwich Village. He lived in a cold, smoke-stained flat in downtown Pittsburg, furnished with enormously hairy overstuffed objects which always seemed moist, and filled with unsalable paintings. The paintings were all in a style strongly reminiscent of Rembrant, but with far more than his technical competence. They were absurdly representational.
Goshawk's wife had abandoned him, moving in with a dealer who merchandized thousands of Klee and Mondrian reproductions at $1.98 each. Her note had been scrawled on the back of a nasty demand from his dentist's collection agency. Two shoddy subpoenas lay on the floor next to his landlord's eviction notice. In the litter, unshaven and haggard, sat Amrosius Goshawk. His left hand held a newspaper clipping, a disquisition on his work by one J. Herman Lort, the nation's foremost authority on Art. His right hand held a palette-knife with which he was desperately scraping little green crickets from the unfinished painting on his easel, a nude for which Mrs. Hoshawk had posed.
The apartment was full of little green crickets. So, for that matter, was the Eastern half of the country. But Ambrosius Goshawk was not concerned with them as a plague. They were simply an intensely personal, utterly shattering Las Straw -- and, as he scraped, he was thinking the strongest thoughts he had ever thought in his life.
He had been thinking them for some hours, and they had, of course, travelled far out into the inhabited Universe. That was why, at three minutes past two in the afternoon, there was a whirr at the window, a click as it was pushed open from the outside, and a thud as a small bucket-shaped spaceship landed on the unpaid-for carpet. It opened, and a gnarled, undersized being stepped out.
"Well," he said, with what might have been a slightly curdled Bulgarian accent, "here I am."
Ambrosius Goshawk flipped a cricket over his shoulder, glared, and said, "No, I will NOT take you to my leader," decisively. Then he started working on another cricket who had his feet stuck on a particularly intimate part of Mrs. Goshawk's anatomy.
"I am not interested with your leader," replied the being, unstrapping a super-gadgety spray-gun. "You have thought for me, because you are wanting an extermination. I am the Exterminator. Johnny-with-the-spot, that is me. Pronounce me your troubles."
Ambrosius Goshawk put down his palette-knife. "What won't I think of next?" he exclaimed. "Little man, because of the manner of your arrival, I will take you quite seriously. Seat yourself."
Then, starting with his failure to get a scholarship back in art school, he worked down through his landlord, his dentist, his wife, to the clipping by J. Herman Lort, from which he read the following passage:
"...and it is in the work of these pseudo-creative people, of self-styled 'artists' like Ambrosius Goshawk, whose clumsily crafted imitations of photography must be a thorn in the flesh of every truly sensitive and creative critical mind, that the perceptive collector will realize the deeply-researched validness of the doctrine I have explained in my book "The Creative Critical Intellect" -- that true Art can be 'created' only by such an intellect when adequately trained in an appropriately staffed institution, 'created,' needless to say, out of the vast treasury of natural and accidental-type forms -- out of driftwood and bird-droppings, out of torn-up roots and cracked rocks -- and that all the rest is a snare and a delusion, nay! an outright fraud."
Ambrosius Goshawk threw the clipping down. "You'd think," he cried out, "that mortal man could stand no more. And now" -- he pointed at the invading insects -- "now there's this!"
"So," asked the being, "what is this?"
Ambrosius Goshawk took a deep breath, counted to seven, and screamed, "CRICKETS!" hysterically.
"It is simple," said the being. "I will exterminate. My fee--"
"Fee?" Goshawk interrupted him bitterly. "How can I pay a fee?"
"My fee will be paintings. Six you will give. In advance. Then I exterminate. After, it is one dozens more."
Goshawk decided that other worlds must have wealthy eccentrics. He watched while the Exterminator put six small paintings aboard, and he waved a dizzy goodbye as the spaceship took off. Then he went back to prying the crickets off Mrs. Goshawk.
The Exterminator returned two years later. However, his spaceship did not have to come in through the window. It simply sailed down past the towers of Ambrosius Goshawk's Florida castle into a fountained courtyard patterned after somewhat simpler ones in the Taj Mahal, and landed among a score of your women whose figures and costumes suggested a handsomely modernized Musselman heaven. Some were splashing raw in the fountains. Some were lounging around Goshawk's easel, hoping he might try to seduce them. Two were standing by with swatters, alert for the little green crickets which occasionally happened along.
The Exterminator did not notice Goshawk's curt nod. "How hard to have find you," he chuckled, "ha-ha! Half-miles form north, I see some big palaces, ha, so! all marbles. From the south, even bigger, one Japanese castles. Who has built?"
Goshawk rudely replied that the palaces belonged to several composers, sculptors, and writers, that the Japanese castle was the whim of an elderly poetess, and that the Exterminator would have to excuse him because he was busy.
The Exterminator paid no attention. "See how has changing, your world," he exclaimed, rubbing his hands. "All artists have many success. With yachts, with Rolls-Royces, with minks, diamonds, many round ladies. Now I take twelve more paintings."
"Beat it," snarled Goshawk, "You'll get no more paintings from me!"
The Exterminator was taken aback. "You are having not happy?" he asked. "You have not liking all this? I have done job like my promise. You must paying one dozens more picture."
A cricket hopped onto the nude on which Goshawk was working. He threw his brush to the ground. "I'll pay you nothing!" he shouted. "Why, you fake, you did nothing at all! ANY good artist can succeed nowadays, but it's no thanks to YOU! LOOK AT 'EM -- there are as many of these damned crickets as ever!"
The Exterminator's jaw dropped in astonishment. For a moment, he goggled at Goshawk.
Then, "CRICKETS?" he croaked. "My God! I thought you said "CRITICS!"
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