Fighting Babel

The day had been oppressively hot; the night was only marginally cooler. Clayton Hogshire lay in his upstairs bedroom, naked on top of the sheets, and still he knew that sleep would evade him. His wife had been the one who had wanted to sleep upstairs--she got claustrophobic downstairs, and was too afraid of burglars on the ground floor. She had been dead for three years now, but Clayton had never managed to persuade himself to move the bed downstairs.

He sighed and turned the light on. If he was going to be asleep, he might as well get some work done. The latest issue of the Jxurnalo de Socihistoria was downstairs in his briefcase--he had planned to read that tomorrow morning anyway.

As he stood at the top of the stairs, he thought he heard noises downstairs. Perhaps raccoons had gotten into the garage again, he thought. Sometimes he could hear them through the walls.

Then he heard muttering, and a series of sharp crashes. Those were definitely human voices, and the crash of breaking glass came from the kitchen. Burglars, he thought. Somehow the concept didn't seem real. Despite Sharlla's fears, they had never had burglars while she had been alive. Now, after she was dead, they came. And if he'd ever gotten around to moving the bed downstairs, he might be dead right now.

He walked slowly and quietly back into the bedroom and turned the light off. After his eyes had adjusted, he debated about getting the gun from the back of the drawer, where it had lain for fifteen years. But all the stories he had heard of homeowners killed with their own weapons made him pause. He decided instead to get a poker or something from the living room downstairs, if it should prove necessary. The vision of raccoons was still firm in his mind, and he imagined that once light shone on their faces, the burglars would look into it for a second, then scamper off into the night.

There were more crashes from the kitchen, and then the kitchen door itself crashed open. Light spilled forth into the living room, and from the top of the stairs Clayton could see the shadow of a strange, barely human form. Voices drifted upward to him.

"Frobisher says that the old man's light went on, and then went off again a little while ago."

"If he knows what's good for him, he'll pretend he slept through the whole thing. Where does he keep the demon-tongue stuff?"

Clayton backed into the bedroom and fumbled open the drawer holding the gun. These were Babelists, then. They claimed that Esperanto wasn't one of God's tongues, since it was made by man, instead of by God at the Tower of Babel. They had mostly restricted themselves to threats up to now, but here, where they had allies with the Klan as well, they could move more openly. Clayton was an outspoken advocate of Esperanto, and thus an obvious target.

But Clayton's earlier distraction had been replaced with white rage. The Babelists inspired that in him, as he probably did in them. And he hadn't forgotten everything he had learned in Korea.

His slippers muffled his footsteps as he moved down the stairs. The steps themselves were silent, since he hated creaky boards and took pains to fix them. There were three figures in the living room now, and one of them was taking papers out of briefcase and placing them on the hearth. Another stood by with a can of what was probably gasoline. Clayton wondered if they would stop at burning his papers.

He didn't want to find out. He took careful aim at the first figure's hand, and fired. Two heads turned at the shot, the other being more preoccupied with screaming in pain at the shattering of its hand. The figures were faceless in the hoods they wore, revealing only their eyes.

"I think you boys'd be better off just clearing right out of here," he said calmly. When they hesitated he fired another shot that ricocheted off the mantel. "Move!" he yelled. They moved, scurrying out like the raccoons he had imagined.

He considered calling the police. They were probably in on it, too, but it wouldn't hurt, just to make it all look legal--if he didn't report a break-in, they'd probably make it look like he was hiding something. And Sheriff Rolontz was reasonably honest--had to be, with a name like that in these parts.

While waiting for them to arrive, he inspected the damage in the kitchen. Damn shame, that. The broken glasses could be replaced, but that crystal bowl had been a wedding present for him and Sharlla. She used to joke how it was the only culture the two of them possessed. He considered sweeping up the shards, but the police would probably want to look at them.

'Bout time to move out of this town, he thought. He was surprised how little that felt like giving up. After all, that was what the Babelists aimed to do, was drive him out. But he was stagnating here anyhow. Nothing holding him to this house, now that Sharlla was gone, and the Babelists were plenty reason to leave it. Up in the capital he'd be better set up to get things done anyhow.

And he could put the bed in the basement and finally get some sleep.

<Tom Fawcett gave me the assignment

faceless oppressive socio-historico culture

No SF, no transmogrification, no sex, no death.
No oppressive totalitarian systems. Mainstream>

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