Corey Mesler



The Boy Who Used Up a Word

Timmy Erasmus Timmers was a kid. He was just an average kid. He liked basketball, video games and meat-lover’s pizzas. He liked Charlie Chaplin movies and Encyclopedia Brown books and The Beatles. He even liked his little sister, Annabeth.

So it was not any special, concealed or secret magical power in the eleven-year-old that led to the strange occurrence that caused such a stir in Baileysville. And then beyond. Timmy would later say he was just messing around, experimenting. Not in the evil-scientist sense but in the kid-with-nothing-to-do-on-a-Saturday sense.

The truth is that Timmy Timmers used up a word. He had talked to his friend Ed "Jackpot" Burton at school that Friday about the possibility. Ed thought it was a keen idea and was anxious to help.

But Timmy wanted to do it himself.

His hypothesis was this: if he said a word enough times he would use it up. It would cease to exist, disappear even from the world’s largest, unabridged dictionary. That was his working hypothesis. Simple enough, if you have the patience.

So, on Saturday, after calling a few friends to see if he could find a ball game or a companion to explore Bluefield Woods, and coming up empty, Timmy sat down to begin his experiment in earnest.

Picking the word was a problem, as Ed had predicted it would be.

"Pick something gross," Ed "Jackpot" Burton had said.

"No, I don’t want to do gross," Timmy said, with a serious shake of his blond head.

"Pick a word your parents use a lot. That way when they want to get mad at you or something you can take away part of their ammunition."

"My parents don’t get mad very often. And when they do they speak so calmly it really rattles your bones. They’re not name-callers."

"Hm," Ed said.

Both boys appeared stumped.

So, Timmy decided to pick a word at random. A word he hoped was in common usage, one whose disappearance would be noticed. But he didn’t want trouble.

He opened his Webster’s and stuck a finger down on the page. It was like picking a vacation spot by spinning the globe.

"Drakelet, a young drake," the dictionary said.

"Naw," Timmy said aloud.

He closed the heavy book and reopened it like a magician pulling a trick.

"Gruelly, having the consistency of gruel."

"No good," Timmy said. Maybe randomness was not the answer. He gave it one more try.

"Hey," he said. "This has possibilities."

He rolled the word around in his mouth. It was simple enough, brief enough. He could spend the day and night saying this word over and over easy enough.

At ten-thirteen that fateful Saturday morning, Timmy began.

He lay back against his pillows and began saying the word over and over.

He had no idea how many times he would have to say it. How would he know if he failed? He hadn’t thought about that.

As the afternoon wore on he grew tired. Except for a break for a fried bologna sandwich for lunch he did not stop saying the word.

At dinner that evening he wolfed down his food.

"Eat slowly, dear," Timmy’s mother said.

"I’ll race you," said Annabeth.

"You got after-dinner plans?" Timmy’s dad asked.

"No," Timmy said around a half-masticated piece of chicken.

"Don’t talk with your mouth full," Timmy’s mother said, smiling.

After dinner Timmy was hard at it again. His TV remained cold. His video paddles lifeless on the floor.

Around ten p.m. his dad stuck his head in the door.

"Whatcha doing, son? Chanting?"

"No," Timmy said, anxious not to spend too much energy on unnecessary words.

"Okay. I thought I heard you talking in here. Listen, we’re going to bed to read a while and then go to sleep. You don’t stay up too late."

"Mm," Timmy said.

"Goodnight, then," his dad said, closing the door.

Around midnight Timmy’s throat began to hurt. His neck felt tired as if he had carried something strapped around it. He was losing faith in his experiment.

Then it happened.

Sometime right around the change of dates Timmy found he could not say the word any longer. Was he just tired?

"Drakelet," he said.

No, he could still talk. He tried to remember the word. He could not. It was gone.

He went to his dictionary but he had no idea how to look up the word because the word was gone, not only from the dictionary but also from his head. And from the heads of the rest of the world.

At school on Monday, Timmy’s teacher, Miss Parrish called on Timmy to read from their lesson book, from the story about the headless horseman.

Timmy began to read but his voice was croaky.

"Are you ok?" Miss Parrish asked.

"Cold, maybe" Timmy rasped.

"Ok, Wendy Ceccherrelli, pick up where Timmy left off."

At break time Timmy couldn’t wait to talk to Ed. He caught up with him in the hall and pulled him into the bathroom. There was a third grader in there but they didn’t pay him any mind.

"I did it," Timmy whispered.

"You did? It worked?" Ed said. His pleasure was genuine.

"Took all day," Timmy said.

"What was the word?" Ed said in his excitement.

"It’s gone," Timmy said.

Ed thought a moment.

"Of course," he said. "Um, now what?"

"I don’t know," Timmy whispered. "But the word’s gone."

"You wanna do another?" Jackpot asked.

"Naw," Timmy said.

"Maybe I’ll do one tonight."

"Maybe it’s not such a good idea," Timmy whispered. It just occurred to him what the possibilities of this anti-creative force were.

"You did one," Ed said, sulking. "I want to try, too."

Timmy went home that night in a bit of a funk. He was sorry he had used the word up.

All over the world there were gaps and hesitations in people’s speech. It was slight, almost unnoticeable.

"Oh, what’s the word I want?" was heard over and over again.

Timmy didn’t know any of that. But, he sensed it. He had made a hole in the world, in an important part of the world. He had made a perforation in language.

Timmy was very sorry this had ever started. And now, what if Ed did it and then told someone and they told someone and on and on.

Timmy called Ed on the phone.

"Please don’t do it," Timmy said.

"Relish, relish, relish, relish, relish, relish, relish," Jackpot said.

"Why did you choose that word?" Timmy asked.

"I hate relish," Ed said. "Relish, relish, relish…"

Before going to bed Timmy wrote himself a note. It said, "Relish. Check fridge. Chopped pickle in a jar."

The next morning Timmy ran to the refrigerator and opened the door. He started pulling condiments out in a frenzy. His note now said only, "Check fridge. Chopped pickle in a jar."

"What are you doing, dear?" his mom, asked. "I’ll make you breakfast."

"I’m looking for something." Timmy said.

"Well, what, dear?"

"I can’t remember. But I’ll know it when I see it," he said.

In the back of the fridge, behind a jar of old honey-mustard, Timmy found what he wanted. He pulled it out into the fresh air as if he were pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

The jar of chopped pickles was there all right. But where its name was supposed to be there was blank white space.

"What’s this?" he asked his mom, frantic now.

Annabeth walked through the kitchen, her face smeared with syrup.

"Let’s see," Mom said, sliding her reading glasses up to her nose. "Well, dog my cats, there’s no name on it. Ingredients: pickles, salt, water, spices. Hm."

"But what’s it CALLED?" Timmy shouted.

Timmy’s mom looked at him over her glasses, a silent reproach to his raising his voice.

"Well, I don’t know what it is. To be safe I’m going to throw it away."

And she did. Out it went.

"Now, what would you like for breakfast?"

When Timmy got to school a red-eyed Ed met him on the front steps.

"Ha!" Ed said.

"Yeah," Timmy said.

"Hey, I was happy when you did it," Ed said.

"I know. I’m sorry I did it though, Ed. You didn’t tell anyone else did you?"

"Just Jackie and Jennie and Shlomo and Flannery and Garland and Pat and Sherri and Frank."

"Oh boy," Timmy said.

And that’s how it all got started.

When the grammarians at Harvard University traced the trouble back to Baileysville, Timmy turned himself in.

"This is terrible," one of the grammarians said.

"I know," Timmy said. "I wish I could erase the whole thing. I wish I could go back in time and undo it."

"Not much chance of that," another grammarian said, a nice-looking lady with a "Just Read" button on her beige sweater.

"You’ve put us in quite a pickle, young man," said the man with the white beard who seemed to be in charge.

"Don’t say ‘pickle’," Timmy said.

And so it happened. Little by little the language lost words, lost some very important words. Little by little writers lost the ability to create magic with the alphabet. It was a sad time for the planet.

World leaders went on television to plead with people to stop using up words but the more that they gave away the secret the more people tried it. It was irresistible. It was quickly out of control.

And it wasn’t just in English this was happening. All over the globe people were using up words just because they could. In Swahili, in French, in Italian, in German, in Polish, in Hmong.

Writers were in despair. Some stopped writing.

The production of books dropped eight percent the first year. The next year it was down seventeen percent.

No one knew what to do.

But a lesson was learned. Even as it trickled away, like sands through an hourglass, language took on a new significance. People began to appreciate the words that were left.

Yet still they ebbed away. There was no turning back.

Stories, the ones that were still written, and the ones already written, began to have holes in their sentences. The opening of A Tale of Two Cities now read, "It was the best of times, it was the        of times." No one knew what went in the cavity.

Some people stopped reading. It was too difficult.

It was a nightmare.

I know. I’m a writer. I put this down on paper as a           for all of us.