Monday, October 03, 2011

Fiction fragment: Plain of Shinar

Whenever Sophia was on vacation, she always woke slowly, gradually, in the early mornings. She'd turn over in bed, still half-dreaming, and press herself close to Ethan's warm back, wrapping her arms around him, and he'd sigh happily in his sleep. Perhaps half an hour later, Ethan would grow warmer, his body temperature rising to wake him up. He'd turn over and take her in his arms, slowly kissing her awake.

That was how the morning began, at least. Sophia rubbed the sleep from her eyes, wondering how Ethan could still find her desirable in the morning, happy that somehow he did. "Good morning, honey."

Ethan smiled at her. "Toolpa, kemas."

Sophia giggled at this string of nonsense. Ethan must still be half-asleep. "Want to try that again?" she asked playfully.

"Munk baquistu?" Ethan replied, looking confused.

All right, then, Ethan was playing another of his practical jokes. "Come on, honey," Sophia said. "I'm not in the mood for this."

But Ethan didn't crack his usual boyish grin over being called out. Instead, he began to look alarmed. "Munk baquae? Vot qennant uta zatna mezzat," he said.

If it were meant as a joke, it certainly wasn't funny any more. Was he ill? Sophia put an experimental hand to Ethan's forehead. It didn't feel particularly warm. "Honey," she said, "you're not making any sense. Do you understand me?"

"Sophia," said Ethan, and Sophia relaxed in relief -- but only for a moment, as he continued, "vot rihob zatna iitos mo'ot. Vot aap prina do fyzot." He leaned over to kiss her tenderly and added, "Prizannant, kemas," before rolling out of bed.

Sophia watched him as he went to the phone. What on earth was going on? It wasn't like Ethan to push a joke this far. Not only was he oblivious to the fact that he was talking nonsense, he also didn't seem to understand Sophia. Some kind of aphasia, maybe? But then why...

Ethan was on the phone. "Sotik? Vot'ar Ethan Holloway, alyan vom naama Sophia..." He broke off, listening in puzzlement. "M--munk?" He continued to listen. "Vot qennant... munk zatnata ip?" His expression slowly clouded to frustration and anger. Then his eyes fell on Sophia, and he brightened. "Aaa! Mezi do vom naama," he said, and held out the phone to her.

Of course. If he couldn't understand Sophia, he probably couldn't understand anyone else. Sophia took the phone. "Hello?"

"Ulu lesuthi tuli kuulis?" said the calm, well-modulated female voice on the other end.

A well of panic dropped low in Sophia's stomach. "Oh, no. Not you too."

"Ii lulie sitheu'e biu, ithaa," said the voice. And whatever manner of gibberish she was speaking, it seemed to be of a completely different tone and style than Ethan's gibberish. Ethan couldn't understand her any more than he could understand Sophia.

But Ethan had handed her the phone. Maybe he thought Sophia could make sense of the voice on the other end better than he could. Sophia glanced at Ethan, who was staring at her expectantly. She pointed at the phone and shook her head, and his face fell.

"I'm sorry, but I can't understand you or my husband," Sophia said politely. "Goodbye." She hung up.

Ethan shrugged and spread his hands at her: what's going on?

Sophia shook her head: I don't know. Then a happy thought occurred to her. She pointed at him and spread her hand out to stop him: wait here, and ran to the kitchen. She grabbed the shopping list from the fridge, dug a pencil out of the junk drawer, and headed back to the bedroom, scribbling as she went.

Ethan had already figured out what she was doing before she returned, and met her at the door to see what she would write. She was scribbling, as clearly as her nervous hands would allow, Can you understand this?

Over her shoulder Ethan read aloud, "Verlozen... habin... don?" They looked at each other and he shook his head. On impulse, he took the list from her and started to write something himself, in characters that looked a little like Chinese.

Suddenly Sophia thought of something else: if she couldn't speak or write to Ethan, maybe she could point to printed words for communication. She went to the bookshelf and took down a battered paperback copy of The Wizards of Weeping. It fell open to her favorite section of the book, where Frayn finally manages to free his beloved from the weeping stone in which she has been imprisoned for years -- but at a terrible cost.

It was definitely her book -- the same purple stain where she'd dripped a Capri Sun on Chapter 3, the same dog-ears where she'd turned down the pages. All the familiar words had to be there. She knew they couldn't have been changed overnight. But the text made no sense to Sophia. It was as though her entire book -- the story she'd owned and loved since fifth grade -- had been converted into mindless word salad. She ran her fingers over the page, over the lorem ipsum of the words she knew by heart, but could no longer read.

In all probability, if what happened next had not happened next, Sophia would have slumped to the floor and cried. But there was no time, for just at that moment the house was shaken by a bone-trembling crash so deafening that they felt rather than heard it. Instinctively, Ethan grabbed Sophia and pulled her into the open closet, just in time to avoid being cut by shards of glass as their bedroom windows exploded into the room.

They remained there for what seemed like an hour, shaking and clinging to each other in the dark, waiting for the next insane thing to happen. But when time had passed and there seemed to be no further explosions, Ethan ventured out to see what had happened. Through the blank holes that had once been their bedroom windows, he could see the blaze rising from the airplane that had buried itself in the hill not quite a block away.

want more?

ETA: I've had a lot of positive feedback about this one, and I'm currently considering what it would take to make it into a full-fledged short story. Thanks very much for your comments.


MarieC said...

OK, you MUST MUST MUST write more of this story!!

Lady Arat said...

Tim here... I concur.
And really, if God truly wanted discord, THIS would do it. Better than anything I can think of.

Soozcat said...

Hi Tim. (You do know you don't have to use a Blogger account any more to post comments, right?)

Whenever people write about apocalyptic events, they always seem to go in the direction of nuclear or chemical warfare or lethal plagues. I just started thinking about whether some non-lethal event could completely break down society. And then I remembered something in Genesis 11...

Scarehaircare said...

Loving this. More, please!

jenny-poo said...

I love this!!!

Paula Bowles said...

This is great, I want to know what happens next! Such a great idea, when communication goes wrong.. eek! I love reading your writing :)

Soozcat said...

Thanks, Paula.