Heavily armored punctuation guarded the palace gates. “Where’s your invitation?” a belligerent semicolon demanded.
I handed mine over. Forgery had done an impeccable job, but some punctuation claim they can smell a profanity a mile away.
“You don’t look like Aardvark.”
“I’ve lost some weight since last year,” I said.
“Raise your hands,” the semicolon ordered.
I did as instructed and he patted me down. “Is this really necessary?”
He handed back my invitation. “Gangs of wild profanities roam the streets at night. We don’t want their kind attending the ball. Not to mention those double entendres. The last thing we want is Attila the Pun sneaking in.”
I strolled through the palace gates, trying to look casual. I had attended Lord Dictionary’s grand balls years ago, but ever since Destiny seized control, the profanities had been excluded. Apparently we weren’t fit for the company of more refined words. Destiny’s purge also swept away the new words, and now Podcast, Selfie, and Twerk languished in the palace dungeons.
The ballroom was filled with hundreds of the court’s favorite words. Lord Dictionary sat on a golden throne, Destiny by his side. Revolution was nailed to the wall behind them.
Revolution had tried to overthrow Destiny without the help of the verbs. I was going to succeed where Revolution failed. There is no more versatile a word than me.
Destiny clapped his hands and the assembled words fell silent. He gave a long speech where he mentioned his own name a lot. After Destiny had outdone even Boredom, the words lined up in alphabetical order to be presented to Lord Dictionary.
Since not all of the words were invited, I was at the front of the line. I bowed before the golden throne. “I am Aardvark. I am from the Dutch, meaning earth pig.”
I handed a slip of paper to Destiny. He looked surprised, but glanced down at the paper.
“Aardvark is pleased to greet Destinie,” the card read.
Destiny bellowed in rage. There is no graver insult than a misspelling. He had no choice but to challenge me to a duel.
Punctuation surrounded us and we were led away to the dueling chamber. The floor was covered with the bones of dead words.
“No one will ever speak Aardvark again,” Destiny promised. He raised a hand and the roof slid open, revealing a star-filled sky. The stars rearranged themselves into new constellations, spelling out his name.
His power was overwhelming. I sank to my knees.
“You cannot defeat Destiny,” he crowed. “It’s written in the stars.”
I tried to rise, but his power held me firm.
He peered closer at me. “You’re not really Aardvark.” He tore away my disguise. The assembled words gasped in surprise.
“Avert your eyes,” Destiny called out. “We have a profanity in our midst.”
An exclamation mark handed Destiny a sword. He brandished the sword above his head, then cut away the first of my letters, rendering me blind. The pain was overwhelming.
“You’re nothing but uck,” Destiny taunted me.
My plan had gone as badly as I hoped. Near defeat was the only way I could summon my old friend Disaster. I had served many times as an adjective to his power.
My heart beat furiously. I could feel the rush of impending Disaster. Screams filled the chamber. Disaster struck.
I fumbled in the darkness and grasped my missing letter. I reattached it, restoring my sight.
I looked up. A billion stars spelled out my name. Disaster’s original meaning is evil star, and he had rearranged the constellations.
Destiny stared at the sky with a look of disbelief. I tore the sword from his hand and stabbed him in the heart.
The punctuation tried to stop me, but I rallied the verbs and adjectives to my cause. Together we threw down the semicolons and full stops.
I marched back to the ballroom. I had promised my allies we would return to the old days when Dictionary was more inclusive, but I had lied. I beheaded Dictionary.
The other words milled around in fear and confusion.
“True freedom is only possible without binding definitions,” I proclaimed. I ordered the release of the words in the dungeons and had the palace gates thrown open.
Attila the Pun rode into the ballroom with his horde of double entendres. He laughed when he learned what had happened. “Blind uck will always defeat Destiny.”
It took a while for the other words to adjust to their new freedom, but most of them learned to subvert their meanings. Verbs sat around doing nothing. Colorless green ideas slept furiously. Filth bathed in pristine mountain streams. Disgusting ran through meadows with the cutest puppy in the world.
And I was finally welcomed into polite society. The elderly told me how nice it was to hear my name. The religious praised me in their sermons. One of the happiest days of my life was when I was guest of honor at a kindergarten graduation ceremony. The young words shouted out my name with joy, and my heart filled with pride.
About the Author
Aidan Doyle is an Australian writer and computer programmer. He has visited more than 90 countries, and his experiences include teaching English in Japan, interviewing ninjas in Bolivia, and going ten-pin bowling in North Korea. Find him online at aidandoyle.net and @aidan_doyle.