All Stories, Science Fiction

They Who Were Wordless by Piyali Mukherjee

typewriterKu was named with a rare consonant and the last vowel her wordless family had to spare and she had fallen on desperate times indeed. The Qxlb recruited Ku when they discovered that she sold slang on the black-market, desperately moving from alphabet to alphabet to feed herself. Ku had always considered them her last resort, and now that she had succumbed to it, she felt her end very near. The Qxlb chose their unpronounceable names from scraping the remnants of burned lexicons on the streets, an act which endeared them to the wordless majority. They made bold claims to restore the depleting vocabulary and often acted on them, using methods that Ku could neither accept because of their extremity nor reject because of their results. The government could not capture or describe that which they could not name, which served the Qxlb’s purposes quite well.

Ku had come to realize that her introversion had moved from a choice to a survival trait. It was not only the quiet introspective silence that she had habituated to, but an impressive taciturn armor from which words had to literally be wrestled out. Ku had grown up around the increasingly thinning rationed dictionaries, watching friends and families unspeak themselves around her, whispering the last of their letters from their hoarse mouths and falling to a vocabulary of grunts which could at best communicate anguish. There were literally no words to convey what she had seen or felt so she denied herself the experience of it. If she couldn’t describe it, even to herself, what could it be? The frustration of the sudden limits on their expressive abilities often drove the wordless to death, that Eternal Silence. The sad silences, the awkward silences, the pregnant silences were not for Ku. She clung to her armor terrified, willing to risk losing her voice entirely than to risk losing the few words she had. Sometimes these words would jump to her mouth, but remain unexpressed.

The Qxlb researchers as well as the government had tried to come up with alternative languages. Could they teach an entire population of adults to sign before their language died? Could they come up with any language at all that would not suffer the same fate from their using, abusing mouths? The more outspoken members of Ku’s generation still believed they could Do Something about this situation. They directed scattered efforts to word-preservation methods or new ways to communicate without losing the expressive power they had formerly retained. The problem had to be discussed, the solutions had to be expressed. Ku guessed that they were in denial of an entire generation had been rendered disabled by the very language they spoke. Still she couldn’t blame them for trying.

Ku’s illegal transactions were conducted behind a governmental shelter that taught speakers to sign. She made words that could be used for one conversation and then died out. This made what people spoke impossible to remember (since they weren’t real words), but they gave people the illusion that they had more words to spare. They had signed till they had calluses on their hands and yet they became increasingly incoherent. It was a failing venture by a desperate government, foiled at will by the Qxlb who refused to surrender to these indignities. Large populations of adult speakers could not be converted to signers in a timespan that could retain their language. The silent inexpressible frustration that the signers now held in their hands brought literal chokeholds, broken fingers and hands. Signs failed to be accepted as the new norm, and people soon thought their hands could be better used to squeeze the remaining letters from the living and the speaking yet. The demented signers now roamed the streets muttering, “_Ny l_tt_rz pl_z h_lp-“, begging any possible letters they could from those who walked alone in the dark. Ku clutched her few vowels close to her heart, when she braved those nights.

The Qxlb had assumed that by killing the verbose, the archaic, the voluble and the redundant, they could recover yet the words and letters unspoken. Like spilled blood, the letters disappeared shortly after their death though scavengers actively hunted for short easy vowels or the occasional soft consonant. By the Qxlb’s “munificence”, they could collect as much as they could commit to their memory. The scavengers knew they were now impure with the letters of another, but at least they could lend comprehension to their speech, a voice to their demands. They comprised of the Qxlb in large numbers. They disgusted Ku, but she could never name the feeling without losing words, so she accepted their recruitment as some form of final punishment. She was one of the most passive and withdrawn recruits yet for she had no words to bandy, not even for small talk.

The raid on the old libraries tonight would be in vain, Ku thought. The Qxlb were under the impression that freeing words from the archaic manuscripts and texts would enable people to use them. Blood-curdling scavengers had been recruited for this noble task because they could memorize the letters of others so rapidly. The Qxlb also deemed it necessary to find new letters to identify themselves with. Notoriety had cut into the exclusive usage of ‘Q’s, ‘X’s, ‘L’s and ‘B’s, which would soon become rare due to overuse. The Qxlb could not afford anonymity to the extent that even their own members were unable to identify themselves. Ku herself had grown accustomed to living in the perpetual fear of unspeaking her own name. She let others assign aliases to her and did not care to repeat to herself what they were, since she didn’t want to be remembered by them. Ku knew they envied her silence. She must be holding on to a lot of words, they must have rumored, let her open her mouth and speak for a change.

Despite all of the projected bravado that the Qxlb members shared between themselves, Ku could not shake the feeling that the Qxlb had run out of alternatives. Ku watched the more aggressive members hold Silencers to the mouths of government officials, vicariously living through the memories of squeezing every last word that casually rolled from their fat mouths, spilling between the flecks of their saliva while they laughed or chortled. Did they deserve justice? Did they deserve to have their voices heard just because they could afford the waste? Ku crept into the raided library herself, assigned to secondary shifts, reading aloud from the echoes of words left behind by her shift-members. Her painfully hoarse, fragile voice carried the combined weight of disuse as well as the magnitude of “new” words. Scavengers stared at her lips hungrily, memorizing their moves, driving their own depraved growls to the sound of possible prestige and power and expression. Ku did not doubt that they had contemplated scooping the last of the words from her should they spot her alone in some dark corridor.

When the long night ended, the Qxlb poured into the streets, fresh with new words of joy and celebration. Even the wordless who could still speak joined in the revelry, since victory did not need words to be expressed. The Qxlb could shout themselves hoarse into the horizons with a “victory” that they hadn’t “earned”.  Ku did not care for the Qxlb’s losses and she certainly could not care for their successes.

“What is the point of fighting over the few letters we have among ourselves if we cannot save the history of a people?” she asked herself aloud, nearly surprising herself with the sound of her own daring. By speaking aloud to herself, Ku had unlocked the dam that had kept her words and feelings and ideas in. Now that her voice had been reluctantly put through the motions of speaking, Ku knew it was time for her wordless suicide to begin. She stalked back into the library for government bodies that still bled. She pushed past the scavengers who were ready to press words even from the ghosts of these people as spoken life left them. She dipped a sharp tip of wood in the slow-pooling blood and began to scratch words onto the recently emptied pages that had been read from.

“We are the Atlassian people. We speak a language that has abused us. Very soon, we will be silenced forever. There will be nothing left in our language. Without words to use, we will be thoughtless and nameless. Do not forget us…”

Piyali Mukherjee

Banner Image: Racconish [CC BY 1.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

10 thoughts on “They Who Were Wordless by Piyali Mukherjee”

  1. Oh, would not Mark Twain greedily assign his name to the end of this mastery of fun, thereby granting it perpetuity, massively collected and brought to an alphabetical landscape of beauty.


  2. Hi Piyali,
    I can’t add to what has already been said.
    You have some imagination to hold this wonderful story together.
    Please submit more as your back catalogue is far too light!!


    1. Hi Hugh,
      Thank you for your kind feedback and for your time in reading the story. I’ve come back to writing after a very long hiatus so I’ll try to be more regular with my submissions!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.