Last year came the cloud. The cloud of small bots that we breathed, that sat – and sit – in brain and nerve. The small bots that took our words.
Not all words. Just the grand words – those of more than one sound. To say or think a word of more sounds is to hurt. The more long the word, the worse the hurt. To make words short is to hurt, too: the small bots know when we speak short but think long.
A pain like a lance in the skull. A rise of harsh gall. A throat through which air will not pass.
We choke on long words.
We can choke to death.
Some of the first to die were those who heal the sick. They fell to their knees on the floors of each health care place. They fell, those who cut bad parts out of meat gone wrong, the trunks of the sick still wide and red. They fell, those who gave the drugs that stop thought and pain. And so fell those who helped. They could not stop the long thoughts of part names and sick names and drug names. The sole ones left were kids who had just been born. The sole voice sounds their squeals.
Also dead: those who built and fixed the tools that help us do work. Cars crashed. Planes fell. Trains went off tracks. Once things broke, none who knew how they worked could bear to fix them. Those part names, too, were too long. The strands of the World Wide Web snapped: none could tend a box of bits and bytes.
Math was not safe from the loss of words. We lost the name of the sum of four and three, and of all things more than ten.
We could not buy or sell for the big sums of old – and our trade from land to land came to an end.
The flow of goods more close to home did, too.
There were folks who were well versed in How Works The World, who worked in labs and fields and who could think hard and clear – but the more they knew and thought, the more they hurt. They could not save us. And we could not save what they knew.
And so we lost the names of beasts and plants, of stones and germs and worlds, of the small bits that bind to make all things.
We try to teach and keep known the Past Times, but we can not speak the names of the lands or those who ruled them, or tell why wars were fought, or tell of trade or lore.
But it is the small, dear things that hurt the most. Not the things we have lost in our minds, but the things we have lost in our hearts.
We have lost our names, and the names of our moms.
We have lost the names of our pets. We call them by new names, but the beasts cock their heads and whine.
We have lost the names of our gods and of those who once came to save us.
We try to teach things and keep things known – but we know we must try to let go.
There are those who fret, who fear that grand things can not be taught or learned if we can not speak grand words. They say all is lost, in a way that can not be fixed.
They may be right.
But the young are quick to learn.
They make new names for those things we need to know, but which we can not speak.
The sum of three and four.
The clear drink we need to live.
The parts at the ends of our hands that we use to grasp things.
The bad taste at the back of the tongue.
They make new names for those things we may not need to know, but which help make up our world.
The sun hued weeds that grow in cracks, whose young leaves we can eat.
The lights and sounds of the sky when it storms.
The masked beast with rings on its tail.
The red fruits that grow on trees.
In each place of this scarred land, from East Sea to West Sea, they learn. Each tribe in its own way.
But it is seen that they draw and they paint and they dance and they sing with a force and a need that we old ones can not know.
We can not speak as they do. We have only these small words.
But when the last of us who think long thoughts has died – teeth clenched tight on the tip of our tongue, clenched tight on the name we can not let go – it may be that still there is hope.
A work of weird flash fiction for http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/01/06/flash-fiction-challenge-apocalypse-now/