The Word


IN THE BEGINNING was the Word,
and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

John 1:1


Pounding his chest, the torch attached to his shirt turns on. The darkness flees. He descends the fixed steel ladder. Once his boot touches the slimy access ledge, he lets go of the ladder & pulls his mask over his face to obscure the noxious sulphur. Threading along the slippery ledge as walking on ice, he eventually reaches the intersection from which several other sewers branch. He sees last of the silt in the hourglass has nearly run to the bottom.


— It started innocent enough, first they began to change the meaning of words. Then they began to criminalize some words. As their power increased, so too did their zealotry. Next, they began re-writing history, then they decided to destroy the history they took umbrage. They began burning books, introduced algorithms that deleted internet posts & fixed computer operating systems that limited what could be searched online. They destroyed the recordings or biographies of historical persons they did not like, then the actual histories. The laws they introduced made it so anyone who protested their madness became criminals.


Looking over his shoulder, he sees the silt has all passed to the bottom. He walks along the rows of gas containers, turning the tap on each as he passes.

— Even so, the words went underground. We fought back against hi-tech censorship by returning to lo-tech means. People set up printers in attics, sheds & spare bedrooms. They printed the books which had been banned, to supply the secret book clubs that became the speakeasies of the 21st century. People spoke in whispers as they traded books in the workplace.


Once all the taps are switched, he turns his attention to the rows of barrels with petroleum. He walks along, unscrewing the caps from each.

— Not content with driving the word underground, they decided to abolish the word as far as was practical. They did away with schools, turning them instead into expression camps. Teaching children to communicate in non-verbal ways, using the gesturing language used by those who could not hear.Hieroglyphs replaced written instruction. People rebelled of course. They used graffiti in public places, disseminated philosophical arguments against the tyranny being imposed upon them to home addresses, using The Party’s own postal service infrastructure. They taught their children to read at home in secret.


After uncapping the last barrel, he walks to the bails of decomposing fertilizer. Crouching to the screen, he turns it on. He sets the time for three minutes before seating himself on the ledge opposite.

— This is how I learned, my mother & father first taught me the alphabet, then the phonic of each letter. Then they taught me to combine them into words, finally, string those words into sentences.As speaking was phased out & gesticulation over articulation phased in & mandatory, conversations only happened in private.


He looks at the screen. 2:33… 2:32… 2:31… 2:30.

— I remember the last conversation I had with my father. It was back when it was still custom to count the years since one’s birth & people were still allowed to own cars. I was eight- and one-half years old, sitting in the back seat behind my mother. We had a rule, only ever speak to each other & never speak anywhere outside our home or the car. I was telling my mother, that day in expression camp we learned people used to believe in all manner of silliness, an example was a thing called god. They believed this god created everything, including us and that there was no limit to its power. My mother asked me what I believed. I told her since I can’t & have never seen any god, there must be no god. My father turned around in the passenger seat with a big smile on his face. He said to me:

What about the wind? You can’t see the wind, but you can feel it. But let’s think for a moment, you can see the effect of the wind in the waving of the branches of trees & dancing of their leaves. You can even hear it, when you really listen for it.

—Then he winked & turned back around. As I sat there thinking, I saw the checkpoint ahead. The mood in the car changed like the direction of the wind tends to do. They began speaking quietly & quickly to each other out the sides of their mouths. We slowed, the police signalled for us to exit. They searched the car & found books in my father’s bag. He was taken away. Months passed until his trial. Portions of the books had words deemed hateful & so convicted of hate-crime. He was executed two weeks later. His body was disposed of by the state. There was no funeral as they’re a ceremony of mourning and mourning convicted hate criminals, is itself a hate-crime.


1:33… 1:32… 1:31… 1:30.

— The Party soon realized that the word was surviving in the world because people were teaching their children. They pontificated that it takes a village to raise a child and families were oppressive to them and subversive to the greater good of society. They decreed that children born to mothers would be adopted by The Party into nurseries, until old enough to go to expression camp. Adults could apply to The Party to foster children old enough to leave the nursery & attend camp. They could never foster their own biological children.


1:03… 1:02… 1:01… 1:00.

— My girlfriend & I, like others tried to hide her pregnancy. It is no easy feat. We found prenatal care in the underground. We found a doctor willing to stamp the sigil required for work absenteeism. Arranged everything necessary for the home delivery, however, a neighbour was well compensated for reporting his suspicions & the home raided. She was taken into custody & held until delivering our child before being released back to me.


0:33… 0:32… 0:31… 0:30.

— She has never been the same since, neither of us have. We both crave our child more than anything this world has to offer. She keeps having night-terrors. For ages she wouldn’t tell me what she sees, but sometime ago, exhausted from not having slept since our child was pulled from inside of her & whisked away. I asked her again. Staring into space, she said:
“I saw before me a man. His steal toe-cap boots were splayed open, revealing mangled toes. His shirt & trousers burnt, stained with blood of the guilty. His nose broken, blood congealing above his lip. His right arm hung loose, dislocated from its socket. His lips pursed tight, sealed like a bank vault. The truth is in his eyes.”


0:18… 0:17… 0:16… 0:15.

— Of course the upper echelons of The Party do not subscribe to their own prescriptions. They keep the word for themselves, for they realize full well its power. Nor do they allow the village to raise their children. In fact, they’re just returning from their summer holidays with family. Today is their first session back in congress above. I remember reading one of the history books my parents had. I read about the Irish revolutionary Padraig Pearse, a leader in the 1916 rising. He reasoned, quite correctly, that the rising did not need be successful, rather that if enough people offered themselves as blood sacrifices & died for the cause. It would inspire the popular support necessary for a successful insurrection.

0:05… 0:04… 0:03… 0:02.

— I learned a new word from that book. Martyr.