language

Under Babel's Shadow

We wander in the shadow of a crumbling Babel, unwilling to leave. Amongst the wreckage, we blunder lost, unable to give voice to our shared longing. Only here can we pretend to understand each other, pretend that we still speak of love like we used to. Through the ruins, stumbling over rubble, we climb stairs ending in thin air and hope in silence that here our spell might remain unbroken. We cling to the illusion of comprehension like the slightest wind will sweep it away. We dare not speak, any attempts at communication since the Tower fell proving fruitless, only bearing us further apart from one another.

I squeeze his hand, the only 'word' we have left. Man's hubris rendered us mute, and leaves us much to discover. What gulf grows in the quiet? Who have we become as creatures so distanced by language?

I remember those first days, back when we were persons of limitless potential. When humankind was a singular organism, with one language that hummed like a harmony in our souls. Our every thought and our every feeling innately understood by our fellow Man. We knew who we would love before we ever met them and there was no doubt, nor discord. We jointly dreamed of this Tower: our bridge to God, and moved toward that goal with purpose, blind to its futility. In a species with shared dreams, there was no room for dissent, no voice for concern.

I remember the pride. How smug we felt grasping for the heavens, but I cannot remember the words we spoke. Those, along with our hopes, were dashed on the boulders of our broken monument to ourselves. Our words were scattered to Earth's farthest corners and there, in the darkness, they lay forgotten.

I remember that fateful day when the Tower collapsed, slapped down by God's fury. A vengeful cyclone of locusts flew from above, crashing down against Babel's precarious heights. Those who survived the falling stones, slabs the size of houses, earthly meteorites, all those who labored under Babel's shadow and lived, the whole world, lost their words. And the dark swarm, its deed done, our conceit rendered little more than foundation and debris, disappeared into air, called by God back to heaven or whatever other dimension they called home. Our proud structure, once stretching into the air for miles and miles, was lost forever.

As we leave the ruins, I turn to him and speak for the first time in years. He blinks his watery blue eyes at my garbled tongue with clear bewilderment. I touch his hand to my lips and try again

I love you, I love you...

He smiles and replies. His own attempts at words guttural nonsense to my ears, harsh nonsense syllables so far from what my own speech had become. But his dancing eyes, his soft caress of my cheek—a light, lingering touch—make his meaning plain.

And I love you even more.

We kiss. And here, with love, beneath the remains of Man's former glory, understanding sparks again.

Death of a Linguist

When I tell my father I want to become a linguist, he remains silent a long time. "Words... they're all lies, you know." He finally responds.

"Language is a construct, meaningless symbols papering over the object's true self."

"Dad, it's not that sim-"

"Here, I'll prove it to you."

"I say 'chair'. Do you picture the word or the thing itself?"

"Well, I see a chair."

"Exactly!" He smiles as if he had the argument won.

"Say chair, or chaise or-" Here he clicks, a series of epiglottal stops. "-It all evokes the same thing. These... 'words'? And all configurations thereof? Mere time wasters."

He turns towards the window, the light from the setting sun casts his long shadow into the room so even from far away he reaches towards me. I cannot escape him, nor the frightful import of his conclusions.

"Every object, every concept, has its true nature. Words are... echoes, blinding us to what things really are."

"So what are they?" I ask. "Really?"

His back to me still, he responds. "I cannot tell you, only show, bound as we are by these falsehoods we speak. Are you quite sure you wish to see? There are some things we are not meant to know, artifices best left unchallenged. My son, I-"

"If you can handle it, so can I. Show me!"

He looks at me. For the first time, I see the anguish, the madness that was always there in his eyes but somehow had always escaped my notice. Perhaps before I did not know what to look for, or that there was ever anything to see. For the first time, I did not see my father, but a dangerous man, who had played with forces beyond the ken of any man to control.

"When did I ever say I handled it?"

He walks towards me, and I retreat. "Language is a lie, yes, but one tied to everything we are. Take that away, and..."

"Who are we?" I finish, breathless.

He reaches me, bearing a mournful expression. That of one just suffering an insurmountable loss. He grabs me by the back of the head, forces me forward until our foreheads are touching. I can feel power crackling in the air. Something dissociating me bit by bit from the world I know. Each second brings another small loss. Each second, I am less able to convey, or even understand that which is being taken from me.

"Exactly my son, exactly. So, tell me," An electric shock rushes through me. "Who are you?"

Two men are in a room, one standing as still as death. The other, older, watches for movement, or life. Then sighs and shakes his head.

"I warned him... didn't I?"

The Father leaves the room, not looking back once at the man who was once his son. The other, the still child, I… he, as if watching from outside himself, remarks on the wetness staining his cheeks. A phenomenon he cannot name. An emptiness wrenches his gut, belonging to an emotion he no longer knows.

The Deadly Hello

Death screamed across the sky that day, a glimmering star that crashed toward land with apocalyptic force. A small rock, an inconspicuous meteor, but one that nonetheless brought with it the end to everything we knew. From across a distance we could not begin to fathom, from a species that died before even the dinosaurs roamed, it came. A greeting from a race that saw our planet and thought 'One day, there could rise life.' And hoped to one day speak to that life. And sent a missive in their only language, a living language spoken in bacteria that communicated by sidling into cells, converting them into factories of their own mass reproduction. One not of letters, but replication. Not of speech, or written word, but volume.

Halfway through the long journey, an asteroid the size of Charon, Pluto's moon, crashed into their own world. The lives they knew ended in an instant.

After their message landed, it only took weeks for the first millions to die. Doctors could not even say why the sick were sick, but by the time the borders closed, it was too late. The armed guards' watchful eyes turned inward with illness. The language of the Outsiders had become our only language, manifested in phlegmatic coughs, in bloody stool, in the rapid onset of death. We knew not who spoke through us, only that there was no time for vehemence, nor for mourning. The graves of those who fell before us became our graves. And then our graves became wherever we fell.

The streets filled, and then they emptied, and then they filled with rivers of rot as the language corrupted all, emulsifying our corpses into puddles of man. The world drowned in us as we subsided. And then all we were was lost, only pool of flesh, of viscera, of molted bone.

Years, centuries, passed in silence. Only the occasional sigh bubbled from a carbon ocean, the only disturbance on our empty world. The bacteria lived on, giving birth, giving birth. The language spread, one not of speech, but life. Millennia passed, the bubbles birthed arches, those arches came together to form organic structures that breathed, that thought. The sludge moved and lived again. And the race, once living, once dead, once hopeful to communicate with our long forgotten selves, rose from our ashes to live again. Rose from our ashes to once again peer into the stars, seeking life to say 'Hello'.

Words Above All

Father Lawrence ignored the ink for as long as he could, the siren song of authorship. He tried to deny the call, but papyrus' sweet scent beckoned in his dreams. Words… he could never forget the words.

Alas, every man has lusts from which he cannot abstain.

And so, as all do in time, he succumbed to his wants. In the desert, the dark, where language was forgotten, he scribbled. He dreamed. Had his kin known, had they still possessed the faculty for it, they would have named him 'heretic'.

To create was a sin of times past, when Man's creation led us to the precipice of our end. Where all our ingenuity led us to a barren irradiated land, where nothing awaited us but dust.

Still, in Lawrence were words demanding escape, and escape they did. A magnificent tableau of long lost imagery, of passions buried in the skulls of dead men. He wrote of art and music, a dull echo of memories from his youth. He wrote of loves and wants lost to the simians that wandered the dying planet, idling away their lives as the Reaper's clutches crept ever closer.

And as the world devolved, he remembered. As literature subsided, his words endured. Though he wrote alone, legends of his endeavour spread. In the brains of the 'righteous' a notion of his danger grew, subvocal but violent, inelegant but deadly.

They came to his hovel, deep in Desert Earth. They bore pitchforks and fire and dreams of destruction.

Murder approached with wordless cries and anger. In clenched hairy fists and furrowed brows. They scrabbled in the dark, banged against his door and bellowed. Fear clenched Lawrence's heart. Visions of the pain that awaited him trembled his hand that sketched and wrote of a time that passed men by. Yet still the Father continued on.

Brigands rushed in. Their flames torched his flesh, razed his home, rendered his many manuscripts into kindling.  The lettered Father burned. As Lawrence turned to ash, he scrawled on his walls in his own blood and crumbling bone, in brackish red letters that turned black as he fell.

"WORDS ABOVE ALL, WORDS ABOVE ALL, WORDS ABOVE A-"

            In the smoky ruin, more than life was lost. All that made us once human was gone. Our words, our language, our thought, nothing withstood the blaze.

            Nothing, not even these words, remained.