Morality Fable

Refute is a city founded on firm principles of public morality.

There is a stone in the center of the city. It explains their beliefs.

“We are good people, ” the stone says.
“We are loving people.”
“We are a people who together dispute the strong Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.”

It is a Whorfian who first discovers the ooze. His name is Mr. Whitfield. He is scruffy. He is smelly. He is in an old tattered brown suit. He is sleeping in an alley, near the sewer. The ooze rises.

“Hello, ” he says, to the ooze. In addition to believing in the strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, Mr. Whitfield is drunk.

“Ssss,” hisses the ooze. There is a poodle nearby. The ooze eats the poodle.

“That was uncalled for,” says Mr. Whitfield.

“Ssss,” hisses the ooze.

Mr. Whitfield goes out to the mouth of the alley, where it intersects the street. “I say!” he cries. “Hello? There is a poodle-eating ooze here.”

People uncomfortably walk around him.

“Ooze,” Mr. Whitfield says. “It eats poodles. It probably eats people, too. I think it might be radioactive sewer waste or some form of ancient blasphemous god.”

Father Morgan looks at Mr. Whitfield sympathetically. He takes Mr. Whitfield’s hand in his. “I can see,” says Father Morgan, “that you’re a man who has lost your way.”

“Yes,” admits Mr. Whitfield.

“I can help,” says Father Morgan. “We can beat the demon of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis together.”

Mr. Whitfield shakes his head. “There’s another demon,” he says. “Closer. In the alley.”

Father Morgan looks distant. “Oh, my son. You haven’t been dealing in anecdotal evidence, have you? I know it feels good, but it’ll ruin your objectivity.”

The ooze strikes. Mr. Whitfield awkwardly rolls out of the way. The ooze eats Father Morgan.

People point. People scream.

“That Whorfian just killed somebody!” they cry. “With an ooze!”

Mr. Whitfield hangs his head. His shoulders slump. “This isn’t fair,” he says. Then he runs. But he can’t escape the police. Pretty soon, he’s under harsh lights, down at the station.

“Mr. Whitfield,” says Officer Samantha Brown. She taps the table with her nightstick. “Didn’t I tell you to stay out of trouble?”

“There’s substantial evidence for the strong Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis!” Mr. Whitfield blurts out. It’s a mistake. Samantha lunges across the table with both hands. She grips his collar. She shakes him.

“I don’t want to hear any of this filthy SSWisH talk,” she says. “A man is dead.”

Mr. Whitfield is terrified. He hangs limply from her grasp, and when she lets go, he sits down hard.

“Now, tell me,” she says. “Tell me what happened. Tell me how Father Morgan died.”

“He wasn’t actually my father,” Mr. Whitfield clarifies. “Or yours.”

Samantha blinks for a moment, then scowls. “I know,” she says.

“He was eaten by an ooze,” Mr. Whitfield says.

“An ‘ooze’,” Samantha says.

“Yes.”

“Can you describe this ooze?”

Mr. Whitfield thinks. “It’s . . .” He hesitates. “It was an atrocity against nature,” he says. “Blasphemous! Ungodly. Horrible.”

The cop looks down. She sighs. “Mr. Whitfield,” she says, “could you possibly give me a useful description?”

Mr. Whitfield thinks. “Are you familiar,” he says, “with the city of An-Meng, sad and broken An-Meng, An-Meng the Lost?”

Samantha shrugs.

“In 1998,” Mr. Whitfield says, “An-Meng learned that it was doomed, but it did not know why. It was the brightest city in this world, but death stalked it. Its lights dimmed. Its sounds faded. There was blood in the streets and pain in the shadows. It was a Utopia, but it did not endure, and they were never to know the shape of their ending.”

“I think I saw something about it on TV,” Samantha says. “It was in Canada or something, right?”

“Striving to understand the shape of their doom,” Mr. Whitfield says, “they came up with words like ‘etoplian’ and ‘scitterfisce’. This death was etoplian; the pall in the sky, scitterfisce; the rising tide of despair, midlipen. And their word for what I saw today was itserban. It was a very . . . itserbani ooze.”

Samantha’s nostrils flare. “‘Itserbani,'” she says.

“Yes.”

Samantha’s hands come palm-down on the table between them. The table shakes. “And you can’t,” she hisses out, “put that in terms I can understand?”

“It’s . . .” Mr. Whitfield founders. “It’s like an externalization of the inner demons and weaknesses of the soul. But it’s founded on a universal malignity—as if the god-demons of the universe were to express an ironic schadenfreude . . .”

“‘Schadenfraude?'”

“It’s German,” Mr. Whitfield says weakly.

“It’s beliefs like yours,” Samantha grinds out, “that destroy the fabric of society.” She rises to her feet. “I’ll come back when you’re ready to talk, and not to peddle your Whorfian filth.”

She leaves the room.

Mr. Whitfield rubs at his chin. “Really,” he says, “I can’t tell whether it was more of an itserbani ooze or a nameless cherklish god, its thousand-tined murkas cutting deep into the spingles of the world. It’s maddening!”

Samantha never comes back for him.

“I’d like some water,” Mr. Whitfield says. He pounds at the door. But no one comes to answer him.

He waits.

Then there is the ooze, pressed against the door.

“Are you the punishment for my sins?” Mr. Whitfield asks it.

The door hinges creak with the pressure of the ooze.

“It just seemed logical to me,” Mr. Whitfield says, “that language controls the human capacity for thought. I knew it was an unpopular version of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. I knew it would ruin my life. But I thought that exploring its implications might be good for a lark. And then I was hooked.”

One of the door hinges pops.

“Do you . . . what do you believe, Mr. Ooze?”

Mr. Whitfield cringes in the corner of the room, as the door bursts down.

“Was I right?” he asks.

“I am not a conversational ooze,” says the itserbani beast.

Then it eats him.

5 thoughts on “Morality Fable

  1. I choked on my coffee seeing “Sapir-Whorf” in this morning’s HD. Rebecca, you are a treasure!

    Hope you’re feeling better.

  2. I would like a plane tricket to Refute. Anyone know where I can find a good, reputable travel agent?

  3. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is one of my favorite subjects to babble on about when I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine.

    I almost spit water all over my keyboard with laughter when I read this one. Bravo!

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