Monday, March 5, 2012

Dying Words - Flash Fiction


Jivaro shrunken head
Photo: Jivaro shrunken head, courtesy salangome.com,  via Softpedia
Markel, aglow with his brand new degree in Language Reclamation, had spent weeks locating Mursa, the last known speaker of the Zpetylka language. The old woman had promptly squelched any hope of recording or documenting his interview by demanding $50,000.  After all, plane loads of wealthy tourists from the mainland paid good money to be photographed with her and to listen to the tales she told with grunts and gutturals.  The continuation of her culture through storytelling meant nothing to her;  what good would it do her after death? Her only child had never spoken a word, and everyone knew that the language of the afterlife was English.

Then word came of another possible speaker, only 30 miles or so up the river. Markel dutifully hired a guide and lost a pint of blood to mosquitoes in pursuit of this new grail.  If it was true, then Markel might be able to bring her back to the village so that she and Mursa, that banausic primipara, could converse, cooperate and assist him in translating Mursa's stories for all the world to read.

Alas, he was several weeks too late. When he arrived and asked to see the woman, he was startled to be presented to a shrunken head nailed to a tree.  Frantic gesticulation resulted in the appearance of a drinking vessel filled with bilious liquid and floating detritus which the linguist took to be a hallucinogenic concoction of chewed leaves and copious amounts of saliva.  He couldn't make out if it was to facilitate conversation with the head or to placate him in his obvious disappointment and distress.

It was accompanied by the inevitable bowl of crispy salted insects.

Choosing to forgo Happy Hour, Markel made his dejected way back to the canoe and they set off for the closest village to an airstrip, sixty miles in the opposite direction.  Riddled with parasites, shaking with fever and sporting a decidedly yellowish cast to his skin, the lover of languages blessed the little plane which would carry him home and flung a few choice epithets at the porter who had snatched his satellite phone and flung it at a peccary to chase it off.  You would think the idiot would have been armed with something other than an ancient flare gun which had promptly jammed.  The porter was equally irate that his accuracy had not been acknowledged.  You would think the idiot would have known the difficulty of hitting a wild pig directly on the snout.



The University had been less than pleased to see him return empty-handed, and calls from successful and grateful alumni  soon produced the $50,000 required by Mersa to share her trove of Zpetylka tales with the civilized world.  Off to the jungle Markel went, to film the old hag and her theatrical performance, contracting fine cases of schistosomiasis and jungle rot in the process.  It was none too soon, as the Last Speaker of Zpetylka passed away peacefully in front of the village's single treasured television set that evening.

Back home, and definitely to stay this time, Markel and his graduate students went to work, carefully parsing and translating the language in all of it's groaning and spittle strewn glory. There were tales of magic, adaptive island living, the cobbling together of what seemed to be modern devices from the rudimentary leavings of nature.  Markel saw fame and fortune dangling before him.  Halfway through, one of his students stopped and cleared his throat.

"What is it?" asked Markel, still looking somewhat skeletal after his recent bouts of flux.

"Umm...these stories.  I know them."

Markel licked his dry lips and felt his stomach contract.

"How," he whispered.

"They're all from the show Gilligan's Island."

And so the Last Speaker of Zpetylka, who might not have even been speaking Zpetylka for all anyone knew, disappeared along with the language and the culture of a tribe which may, or may not, have ever existed.  But she had added one thing to history;  Gilligan's island can now be viewed with Zpetylka subtitles.

Mr. Markel is now preparing a paper on the evolution of, and current cultural importance of, μιμεῖσθαι mimeisthai (memes).  He is accepting donations on his blog Dead Languages Deserve To Be Dead toward paying off the $50,000 owed to the Alumni.

*****
Sample:  flash fiction

20 comments:

  1. 'It was accompanied by the inevitable bowl of crispy salted insects.' Loved this, and the whole story.

    Inspired!

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    1. I suppose some might equally turn up their noses at chicken wings or fried gobs of cheese...glad you liked it!

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  2. Just sit right back and hear a tale...
    Loved this, Li. The execution of it was wonderful, and with a very, very funny ending.

    Oh, lovey...a martini sil vous plait!

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    1. So, Stu...who should serve it, Mary Ann or Ginger? ;-)

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  3. That is hilarious!! Hey, Gilligan's Island is worth preserving in any language.

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    1. Oh, absolutely. Shall we all clamor for a reunion of whoever's left of the cast?

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  4. Hey Li, I'm off to Dead Languages Deserve To Be Dead to make my donation now!

    Before I go, sounds like you and I are at the same juncture - I'm currently working on my best RFWer stories for a self-pub anthology if I ever get around to collating them all, lol. So much to learn...

    Denise

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    1. Hi Denise _ all donations appreciated!

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  5. How funny! I so didn't see that coming. :)

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    1. Yay! I love to be able to pull that off!

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  6. Hi Li. Great story. I love your writing. If you'd like to be part of the 'International' contingent on our site, drop me a line at nationalflashfictionday@gmail.com.
    Thanks
    Calum

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    1. Hi Calum - not sure what that entails, but I'm following your site!

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  7. Genius - a very nice Wednesday evening read :)
    Lx

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    1. Thanks Laura - glad you enjoyed it!

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  8. Nicely done! The ending is too funny and terrible at the same time. Poor man.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

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    1. I hated to do that to him - but it would be rather funny, wouldn't it?

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  9. LOL. I loved the twist at the end--though I do feel bad for the character. All that work to end up with Gilligan's Island!

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    1. Oh well - perhaps I'll have him make a great discovery in another tale :-)

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  10. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant wit.

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