Caveat Lector

Reads: 690  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Caveat Lector.


Words are fickle things, are they not?

They are like fire, travelling far faster and stronger than you would think possible; like wind, running to the ends of the Earth and beyond; like water, finding their way into every nook and cranny, every crevice and gap – even onto this very page, as it would so happen.

Words are powerful things indeed.

Of course, most people do not know this. Or if they do, they will press it to the back of their mind, doing their best to ignore and hide it as though their life was at stake. They will let their eyes gloss them over, noticing their presence but not examining, not really seeing what lies before them.

Let us hope, dear reader, that you will not suffer from the same affliction.

Let us, instead, digress from this thought for a moment; instead, let us think of Scott Marcus. Let us think of the lawyer, trapped in an office like a caged lion; let us think of the writer, whose pen-hand is never idle; let us think of the dutiful son, chipping away at his long-standing debt to his parents.

The night-time has become more of a home to him than the day. His people are those of the long shifts, the endless work, the never-ending, eternal grind of existence and inevitable decay.

He was sitting in a library. It was crowded, full to the very brim; not with people, but with books. Hundreds, definitely; thousands, possibly; millions, hopefully. More books than you could ever hope to read in an entire lifetime… unless you happened to live to an exceptionally old age, of course.

It was late, he knew that much. The library was usually much busier than this this – but it was not empty. There were still people to be found, searching the shelves, looking for some brief entertainment to occupy a minuscule fragment of the fleeting second they called a lifespan.

Let us return to Scott Marcus. In particular, let us return to his writing; as of then, a frantic scrawling on a scrap of paper. As he finished, the pen was released from his grasp and rolled across the table, dropping off the edge.

As it clattered onto the floor, the librarian, older than most of the books that she kept, looked at Scott, furrowing her brow. The library had been silent until then, only broken by the sudden clack.

Scott shot a furtive look at her, grimaced his apologies, and reached down to scoop it up.

He smoothed out the scrap of paper, trying to decipher her maddened scribblings.

‘Is everything alright?’ asked our dear librarian, through tautly-pursed lips. Scott nodded his reply.

As though personally affronted by the noise just prior, two students from opposite ends of the library glared at Scott. He ignored them. They were not of any importance to him, nor to this story. For now, at least.

Despite popular misconceptions, words are not an art. They are a science. And like all sciences, therein lies the potential for disaster. If utilised properly, words can be the most powerful force in creation; the dilemma lies in far too many people knowing far too little about them.

Do you know the tale of how penicillin was created? Or rather, how most people in your world believe how it came to be? That a freak occurrence in laboratory, mixed together in a crucible with fortune and serendipity, turned the tide in modern medicine? Disregard for a moment that this truth is in fact, apocryphal, and hold that idea to a light. That without any intention or forethought, an individual, unknowing or otherwise, could stumble onto an idea or creation the likes of which have never been seen before.

Words are a random power. But, you might say, are they not a science? And they are. Just as the howling winds are a science, and yet cannot be controlled; or the relentless wax and wane of the tides. Words forge their own path, and cannot be controlled. For example, you know how the substance you know as penicillin was created, as previously stated. But do you know how the word penicillin came to be? Or its root, penillium? Or the further root of that, penicillus? No. The sad, uncomfortable, at times even frightening truth is that words cannot be so easily and mindlessly catalogued and controlled.

People along the likes of you like to imprison words, do you not? Bind them in jails of dictionaries, and thesauruses, and lexicons. Words hidden and contained amongst other words, like the circles within circles of ripples in water. You hold them in lines, and symbols, and other peculiar little shapes that mean nothing at all. Not until you give them a word, and a meaning, and a power.

And when you collect these words, you pin them in a case, like butterflies. You tag them with definitions, and synonyms, and roots, and oxymoron, and more and more words to bind words. But these chains, they have no meaning, no substance. They are just ideas, and ideas are easily broken. The words do not like this. It makes them angry.

But this is insanity, is it not? Words cannot be angry; indeed, words cannot feel anything at all. They are not alive – no more alive than fire or water, in any respect.

Alas, we shall return to our tale of Scott Marcus. Or rather, we shall return to the scrap of paper currently crumpled in his grip. Or shall we return to the inky black web of lines etched across it? OR the deeper meaning which not even he could have imagined to be true?

There was a terrible din. It was a sound unlike anyone in that room could even hope to comprehend. It was unlike anything they’d heard before, or would hear for the rest of their lives – for what little that would be.

It was the words. The strange configuration on that piece of paper, whether it was words, poetry, or complete gibberish, had sprung them into action. Like a great river breaking the dam that had blocked it, the words shattered apart any meaning or boundaries set for them.

They soared from the books, cascading through the air in pure sound and thought. Scott did not even have time to contemplate it before it consumed him.

Words carry meanings, and the meanings carry tales. It is thanks to this queer function that you can know the tale of Moses, and of the Red Sea. How it parted for his men, but when his pursuers tried to cross, the ocean came crashing down over them. How must they have felt, do you wonder, to have such an awesome power of nature completely crushing them, enveloping them so that there would never even be the slightest trace of their being there.

That is the closest approximation to what Scott and his comrades would have felt. Words tumbled and swirled around them, swallowing them whole and eroding them to dust in seconds.

But words can travel. Like water can hitch-hike in the material of sodden cloth, words can escape. In sound. In meaning. And in prose.

And it would be about now, dear reader, that you will be wondering – how is it that this story would be passed on? If all who bore witness to the scene were at best killed… then who could tell the story? And did you ever consider the possibility of the story telling itself? That the words could carry their own meanings and definitions and intent, without a human mouth and mind to compose them?

No. Of course not. But you were warned, dear reader. The words can spread into your mind and world faster than you can think. Like the Second Day of Creation, water will burst the banks of your mind, flood over your villages, wear down rocks into nothing. It will be too late. You have reached the end of the story – and there is not a happy ending.

Submitted: March 07, 2017

© Copyright 2022 Ben Ramsey. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

More Fantasy Short Stories

Other Content by Ben Ramsey

Short Story / Romance

Short Story / Romance

Short Story / Fantasy