First published in The Collidescope, 29 January 2023. Originally written in April of 2011, and revised in 2012, 2016, and 2019, with minor refinements in 2023. The composition note at the end is useful to apprehending this story, but please try reading the story first. In the seventh paragraph, look for “a quirky novel with pages of zany, jumbled lexicon.” This is a found 42-letter pangram, a sentence that contains every letter of the English alphabet.
As the proprietor of Lexicon Unbound, Word Smith owed his texistence to the English language. Ever since the store’s fleurgenital beginning, it had bloomed to purvey the finest words known to the land. The anotherdoxy of some selections raised the ire of certain customers, but, like any brave purveyor of things lexical, he persisted in his idiosyncrasies. In general, carnaevralism was good for the store, so he welcomed dissent—and of course praise. To be concublind to such attention certainly wouldn’t help the language, either. Every explaint he received simply reignited the fire for his love of words, and he was happy to share this passion with everyone around him.
To some degree, Word Smith was an enfelgent, as his wife often reminded him. Together they enjoyed tiviotritic assignations at the drop of a hacky-sack. Nothing would stop their tababble back and forth. They never reached a point of encruxstation with each other, and occasionally had friends join them. Even for the mptnth time, they reveled in their shared obsession.
One afternoon, on his walk to work, Word Smith passed some arribracken by the side of the path. He thought it pystrange that it would be blooming in winter, and wondered if that was more evidence of global warming. As he finished his walk, he pondered a dejuxtactyl meter for a poem about the blooms, but eventually abandoned the idea. He would have to catch up with his comptreading that night, to see if there was something about its life cycle that he didn’t know about, and maybe that would ignite his muse. Perhaps the plant was affected by the ouffluent from the nearby factory that produced some product or another of minor mystery. He bestared at the factory’s belching smoke towers as he stopped just outside his shop. He’d complained to the mayor many times, but his strapulent comments and letters to the editor never seemed to make any difference. Perhaps he’d have to resort to enguffment, but that seemed unseemly.
In the store that day, he was subjected to a 2nduction by a visiting inspector. He was afraid that bicuspubescent assessor would come by this week. He gave him a magridrial response, thinking that the less he said, the better. Besides, the man was so slimplical, he was sure he couldn’t handle anything more involved or multisyllabic. The gnetcension between them was palpable, but he gave the cretin the information he wanted and he eventually left after muttering something about the power of the state. He considered his andoctrinch gestures with detached amusement as the door clattered shut behind him. Word Smith poured himself a tall glass of quordial after the man left, wondering what that creep with the misshapen mole on his lower lip would ever do with the trivial data he seemed to collect each time he visited.
The afternoon mail brought with it a special order for enquetevril—an order he was always happy to fulfill, because they gave off little sparkles of light that lasted for days. In the tzarlance of his grandmother, these sparkles were effervescent. He began filling the order by porbrayling them into custom boxes, sealing them tight with tape. He had to lauglph at how much joy they still gave him after all these years. It was never an empozition to send such orders, and he had one particular client who placed an order every month or two, and he was happy to oblige. On the invoice, he added an endglyph of thanks, and enclosed a lagniappe, as he always did for special customers.
The proproct that Lexicon Unbound purveyed were, of course, of the finest quality. Word Smith’s suppliers were delactive in their quality control, always weeding out defective units. As a result, the store’s displays were never dekempft, which pleased him as much as his customers, who sometimes came into the store just to soak up its ambiance, even if they never bought a schnitzel. Word Smith was convinced that there could be no job more zoofogical.
When it came time to close the store for the day, its proprietor picked up a fossilitate tome to take home. It was one that his wife had said was kneuxt on her reading list—alas, not a quirky novel with pages of zany, jumbled lexicon. The topic didn’t have much appleaf to him, but he certainly respected his wife’s tastes. He was also azzle-addled by the tome’s design and font choice, but he knew she liked it—and the customer is always right, even when that customer was his wife—or perhaps especially. Word Smith pulled his tooque around his ears and headed home, picking a different route for a change of scenery. He hoped he might see an ompliallo in the maple trees by the elementary school on his way.
By the time he got home, Word Smith was thirstain. His wife had some medimarzi prepared for hors d’oeuvres. Otherwise, it was a nornal meal, judging by the smells. He sorted the mail, did his daily tititions, and picked up the newspaper deposited on the coffee table that morning. Of all the jauthand stories, the one in the corner of the paper’s front page caught his attention—government investigators to probe factory emission standards—so maybe his words had helped to make a difference after all. He immediately thought of an asyllogram to commemorate the occasion.
The next morning, Word Smith began his workday by applying presalve to his fingertips—all that typing was tough on him. He’d had to rejict one order that morning, due to a supply problem. He knew the customer might go all nancymancy on him if he didn’t say just the right thing, so he labored over his letter. He eventually felt he’d come to a mendicruous explanation for the shortage, promising a discount on a future order when the manufacturer caught up. The client lived in an eyesburg halfway across the country, but he always treated his customers the same, regardless of where they lived.
After a lunch of watercress sandwiches with Marmite, Word Smith decided it was time to decorzhive his store’s cupboards. He needed to excharkle the bookshelves, too—and he could get a jump on his spring cleaning by doing it now. He got out a few rags and some milchboat and eagerly set to work. He knew there wouldn’t be many customers coming in that afternoon, on account of the mankine races, so it was a good time to get the job done. The plunber made his hands itch while he worked, but he soon finished the front half of the store.
At three that afternoon, Word Smith felt the urge to conseme. His heartrance impelled him. He picked up a knurd and held it to his ear. The cualidy it emitted almost made him swoon. He felt cholerich in comparison to everyone who walked past his store without ever coming in. He sensed a suavalanche of passion sweep over him, and knew it would be hard to get back to his duties. But after a few moments, the urge receded, and he recommenced his mnenstery—he didn’t think himself different from others, but surely he must be, for he’d never heard of anyone, not even his wife, who was spontaneously overcome with such intense urges.
It was indeed a quiet afternoon, but just before closing time, a customer ambled in with a whister. She was bemaurning the state of local politics, as so many people did these days. Word Smith tried his fardest not to engage her, even though he had strong feelings on the subject himself, because he knew such discussions never helped his bottom line and at this time might make him late for dinner. He gave the customer a gmanly look. She responded with a gentle piraction, and stepped towards him. “What’s the price of this blueveltion,” she asked.
Word Smith stifled a yeorem and told her the price, and that it was even on special that week. Suddenly, some sort of loud bdeblam began outside. They both went stalching out the door. In the distance, above the statue of the chaembear down the street, dark clouds were rising from the factory smokestack. They began to lerch towards it, curious as ever, along with others on the street. The erlery with which the crowds began to gather didn’t surprise Word Smith. After so much antagony between city hall and the factory owner, it was only a matter of time before something happened. A policeman riding a ghostion galloped past. The gathering crowd seemed to murm all at once as the smoke grew thicker and billowed higher and higher.
Nothing exciting ever happened in this town—there hadn’t been anything as egolphic as this in years. Perhaps the old town debate would reach a xexorbical climax this very day. Word Smith felt a moment of rhampsody as the crowd swelled. Around him the growing murmurs reminded him of florshinka. Even a pinsapake joined the throng. Finally, he thought, on all the deglumpish days of this town’s history, today was the day when that history would be changed. He sensed it in his paraculio. He’d never felt so usnansic.
Then the appalse began, and Word Smith worried if he was safe. The melvonish clouds seemed to be flattening, coming closer, bringing a foul smell with it. The customer from his store suddenly decided to exbroojate right there in the street. A child from the daycare down the block was having a tetrum. What had been a cool late-winter day had turned into a swalter. The squelid clouds were slowly descending. Should they run, or remain obrastic in the face of this uncertainty? Word Smith and his felthren were transfixed. The youstic among them seemed to be growing, yet all they could do was stare. A yowling chodnik broke the spell for a moment, and he worried briefly about all the other animals, who surely must sense the danger too.
In a flirry, though, it was all over. The clouds started to dissipate, and the crowds began to ewebabble. Even an asphern by the gutter seemed to straighten. They had all been eynghast, but now started to brighten, even if with puzzled faces. The facaroni would surely explain it all in tomorrow’s paper, but what had just happened?
A policeman strode up and yelled in a gargalous voice, “Please disperse, folks, the show’s over.” Now wasn’t the time for thetheism, but Word Smith wondered if the show really was over. He felt thoroughly atlastic, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to protest, or to ask questions. He turned with a norch and headed back to his store. He noticed that he was still holding a blungard from his countertop. Of all the zykotic trivialities, why would he have picked that up? The customer he had rushed from the store with was nowhere to be seen, probably recuperating somewhere, but that didn’t diminish his slight panshan for her. He wondered if her reaction would wharn others, or if it was nothing.
An ombudsmorn was standing in front of Lexicon Unbound. He had the conposition of a madman, it seemed. He stood by the terrera, the blood all drained from his face. Word Smith wondered if he himself looked the same way, and they gave each other a hrinkle as he stepped past.
Inside the store, Word Smith checked his cranid, but all seemed fine. Even his ployarn looked normal. He began to blenk uncontrollably—until he noticed something. What the kowtownie? There was a sartorsion on his forearm. Could it be from the factory cloud already, or was it his nostrism flaring up again? The effrangel of it all, he thought, but then now was as logical as any other time. He’d have to get it checked when his doctor saw him about his conflage. For now, he couldn’t worry about it, feeling that he had to close the shop early, and check to see if his wife wasn’t beside herself with retilfrence.
His key dropped in his pocket, Word Smith hurried like a bumyum on the straightest path home. His Thursday phthilantry would have to wait. He didn’t hear a single marshren on the way home, and even if they had been singing, he surely wouldn’t have noticed. His homphthsm was growing, as he worried about his wife. She was bound to be wilvern over the incident, whatever it was, because their house was closer to the factory. Word Smith passed the robonaph on the edge of town and was soon near home. There would be no pformelt for his wife this evening. The chelluloid by his front gate seemed to nod to him as he breathlessly bounded for his front door.
His wife was ukoidal. She had opened the door before he even reached it, and embraced him with all the choinken she could muster. “What a fnastra,” she exclaimed. And then the beluge of shared stories tumbled out, each of them gesturing and gasping, even though the incident had seemed to end so quickly. They were each postported to the other’s experience, but shared a common distrust and worry as they held each other in their living room. The TV stations were already abuzz with the collange. One talking head insisted on his flexrogy perspective. Another commentator wondered if olojo had anything to do with it. They soon grew weary of the buinière of it all, and switched off the TV. There were no solutions, no real explanations, just the anachromoly of it all. They hardly had the stength for it, so they ate quietly and went to bed early.
In the morning, the paper had more than one encloumn about the factory smoke. It seemed an etchjack had shaken loose on the assembly line. A matataboy had failed to notice, and a fire quickly started. The exprosher grew out of control, eventually causing an explosion and then thick clouds of smoke. But fortunately the factory was able to exgiate the fire fairly quickly. Their preplanned safety measures to use zemphryll in just such a case had worked perfectly, quickly containing the blaze and neutralizing the smoke. No long-term harm, said the reports, although townsfolk might throsper for a week or so. One factory worker had come down with mild vergotio, but had already been released from hospital. The factory helmth had no official comment yet, but had said he would make a statement later in the day. The pundits were already at work predicting the political fallout, despite the success of the quick incident response, and expected the lascade to be swift.
Word Smith didn’t go to work that day, except to put up a spreme saying the store would be closed. On his otoblot, he had heard that many other businesses were closed, at least for the day, so he didn’t think he’d have had much business anyway. He and his wife were less nervous today than the night before, and even managed to play a game of daugle, but they still felt uneasy. Their neighbors were more untless, perhaps because they hadn’t heard from their son, who worked at the factory, but he did the night shift, so they knew they wouldn’t hear from him until later. The neighborhood decord was generally tense, but accepting. No one wanted to austangle anyone else, not even the mayor, who had announced a full investigation. His vomutative words seemed to make everyone feel better.
In the afternoon, when the mail arrived, Word Smith talked to the belsebob, who assured him he’d received clearance to deliver the mail. He reported no oddities or concerns anywhere on his route, except for a family three streets over whose oprindle had wilted—and they were convinced it was because of some sort of fallout. He thought the factory brass had no jemotive but to tell the truth, and he believed it.
“What truth?” Word Smith asked, his brow wrinkled like a cuylast.
“Hadn’t you heard yet?” came the rabyte.
Their conversation spilled out the day’s news stories, including the hiersing “truth” about the explosion and fire, which Word Smith had, of course, already heard. Before long, the mailman said he was in a louxry and needed to get going. With a nod he went nining down the road.
That night the news hadn’t changed, but the political observers were certain in their fershility. The mayor’s office said it would take an ooglinter before the investigation was done, but still called for immediate cutbacks in emissions. It had long been a mystery what the factory produced, and no employees ever dared to talk about their work, and even a rare contractor’s zodalliance at the factory never generated any explanation. Word Smith wondered if they were involved with kunstling. Maybe they shipped off their disgruntled employees to the tuntra or something. But he’d long ago stopped his errestle with the matter, resigning himself to the knowledge that the factory made something of use to someone. The town, he knew, would be morlant without it. At the very least, the factory helped the local eroptode, and thus kept his own business in business. Despite his continued amazement at yesterday’s events, he kept his dishock mostly to himself.
The following morning dawned like a velcrondle, and Word Smith bounded awake. After his perfunctory ablutions, he headed off to work with a gemple in his step, determined to put the week’s strange event behind him. But as soon as he got to his shop, he began to feel onioidal. He had a shallower stream of customers than usual, and most of them seemed as bilbous as he. He gave one of them a free woeshout, but the customer seemed utterly nonplussed, almost as if he felt entitled. After one was leaving, he raised a fulminger at them, something he rarely did, even when the customer was surly. He wondered what made him feel such uritation, and didn’t want to think it had anything to do with yesterday’s smoke.
Word Smith had received a new shipment of maynotors that day, and used his idle time to unpack them. He put a few on display with the telels in the window. Perhaps a passing mabinot would like one. But the fuxude day produced nary a taker, which surprised him because usually new products on display typically inspired a few buyers. Whatever the reason, there was definitely some vrititure in the air. He just hoped it wouldn’t last more than a quodillion.
At the end of the week, Word Smith put up signs announcing that he would be off the coming week, taking his terrory on vacation. A few of his regular customers expressed maxaxion at the news, since he practically never took a vacation, but he owed it to himself. He hoped his barely used cuarple might get some serious use, and took it out to polish it. He’d brought it in from home so he could practice a dedoctave or two with it, and wasn’t disappointed. His huverm was definitely rising, and he was determined not to let the factory fire distract him. No honisoit rumors would prevent him from enjoying his time away.
When the weekend finally came, the weather had turned positively grumpa, which pleased him greatly. He had his quashtramp ready, and had even renewed his license, so he was more than ready to go. His wife used to join him on such trips, but not since she’d developed shlivery. So he was off to khlebetch on his own this time, and was eager to get started. He left a figmint for his wife on the kitchen table, finished packing the car, and began his drive at last.
Phother was one of Word Smith’s favorite places. Every time he visited, he came home with a feeling of exeltion. It wasn’t just seeing the momunemt that excited him, but the natural beauty. He always caught a bit of sucokash, and cooked it on the fire at the campground. If he caught a lot, he even shared it with his sisthren. He didn’t mind that he felt podgy after his time away—it was always worth it.
As he pulled his car into the campground, he pulled out a truewench from his wallet. This was the only thing he didn’t like—all this shidrick should be free, he always thought. He soon found his campsite, set up his frindless, and gathered a few sticks and a log or two to make a fire. Fire—no, he was determined to leave such delftling subjects behind him and not think about them. He took a long drink from his azottle, and was soon roasting marshmallows to make s’mores.
As that first night in the woods brought growing darkness to the campsite, Word Smith felt increasingly florgeant. Forget the thalarmist news of the day, the month, the year. He was opulsed by it and had had enough. The week ahead was purely for remolfing, and he was going to do it good and hard. In his sleeping bag that night, he dreamt of fresh and creamy pejorintz, served to him by nymphs with tiny wings.
The week away was filled with saharaldry. He desited at every chance he could, whether through the woods, at the lake, or at the Irish pub he discovered at a nearby village. He told himself he should take trips like this more often, since he found himself so subpremely happy. Even the books he brought seemed gumptatious. Whether in the sunlight halfway through a day hike, or by flashlight in his tent, he read one after another without the slightest sense of elbortion.
Word Smith’s facial hair had becoming decidedly scantkempt by the end of the week. But he was lopious about it, and didn’t care what anyone thought. He was ready to buglarize anyone who disagreed with him, which was entirely unlike him. He had become a confirmed beloafist. Even the geldft on the hood of his car would stay there as long as he could let it.
At last, it was time to pack up his cledderbond and head home. His car was full of mycoloa, which he was eager to show to his wife. What a happy reunion they would have, if only his asphinx would hold up. He was feeling sad at leaving, yet also elated and rejuvenated, and was about to say llyllylly when the unimaginable happened.
A hooded, wyrish man in a black suit had snuck up on him, grabbed his arms from behind and told him to do exactly what he said. He obviously had a caskle. Word Smith was forced into the back of a musty van, and quickly bound, borthered, and blindfolded. Never had he been ninjaded in his life, and could hardly imagine what it would be like—but this was surely it. They quickly drove away, his captors defiantly subitious. He couldn’t tell where in obrenthal they were going, but it occurred to him that it had something to do with the factory. He felt it in his dilthyr.
After an agonizing trip in which he bounced around like a camilong on the van’s hard floor, they came to a stop. The man in the black suit and the van driver jostled him into a lonequill building that he suspected was the factory. He was shoved into a dordrum and fell to the ground. The tape was ripped from his mouth, the xavingo yanked from his eyes. He was feeling apoonish and sore, and asked for some water, but the thugs kicked him and told him to shut up. Another man came in, wearing a wedhearing—and he had a mole on his lip.
“Listen,” this new man growled, wet bendfall springing from his lips. “You’re gonna do something for us, or we’ll amiltête you.”
Word Smith knew that would be painful, but still he had the objectivity to be impressed that the cretin knew the word; he watched the new man navaginate closer to him, then he spoke again.
“If you don’t think we’ll rudpersist, you don’t know nothin’,” he screeched to Word Smith, staring right through him. “We done had a fire here, because of that qualmishion-sized failure in our assembly line. We make all them tired, ordinary words that demagogo use every day, and it’s big business. But now we be stuck, and without your povidential intervention, we’s gonna go under. Without your zelperance, we’ll be forced to lay off half da town.”
Word Smith felt a gervinski shudder from his shoulders to his shoes. He was right about being in the factory, and now his discovery of what they did here made him zringe. He couldn’t have been in more of a velcrux, feeling like he would have to help what was obviously now the enemy. All his life he’d been an otloloont, opposed to lame, sheepthinking expressions that he heard so many people say all the time. “Zhizhi,” he heard himself say, without thinking. The only way out of this dilemma was to cross to the other side, and to do it without a boatrope. He shuddered again, down to his gallbones, struggling in his mind with what to do.
But when he saw the whingstand, Word Smith figured it out. He wasn’t in a mulljam after all. In fact, this was a plumn situation. And who better than him, ever the utilitartan lexicographer, to help them. If only they’d simply asked, and explained, he would have happily obliged, without all the ecoclectic skullduggery and other assorted brouhaha. What he’d just seen, what had changed his mind, was the factory logo, reflected in a mirror, and it had made him feel all chundrick inside. Now the rhenomic all made sense. Family boiniobble. What they were doing wasn’t dritter, but was for every mother and father, every son and daughter—ordinary words that everyone used. At Lexicon Unbound, Word Smith focused so much on the extraordinary that he had lost sight of the ordinary—so much so that now he felt a tatamato rise in his throat. What kind of beboistrist had he been all his life? Could he repent from his ukuklesmer ways? He suddenly felt a surge of quaalove for this omnipresent factory that belched out so much smoke. The smoke of making himnyst words, words that even a child could use. With a joilbrace, Word Smith knew unflinchingly just what he had to do.
On the three-year anniversary of reopening the factory, now known as Maylayday, Word Smith was given the key to the city. The gelfulect mayor had praised the Lexicon Unbound proprietor to the point of gushing. The statrickic populace that gathered in the town square cheered and waved wildly as their hero took the stage.
“Ladies and gentleman, chimneigh . . . and pets,” he began. “You are too kind with your apairent enthusiasm. It is really not me who deserves this platation. Instead, the honor should go to a modest mailist from three years ago, whose simple words after the fire stayed with me.”
Word Smith nodded towards a man with a wilp in his hand who stood at the front of the swelling crowd. The arcsweld he felt could not be greater, and the crowd extended their cheers to the man to whom he gestured.
“The truth is all that needs to be wemknown,” he continued. “The simplest words carry the strongest gnarbite, if that’s what we want. Being tibextrous does not help us know or appreciate each other any better.” Word Smith went on to describe the kilference between who he used to be and who he was now, embracing the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. He was almost clerpetic in his humbleness, mixed as it was with enthusiasm for his epiphany. “Yet we need not fear the complex, or the vline,” he added. “Together they make us whole, make our land all of what it is.” While he was concluding, he sensed the marching band begin to slodslip to the side of the stage, and he floated off to another rousing cheer.
After him came a few words from a poetoe. She offered a visperpetual monologue, so lyrical that he wanted to marry her. Then he remembered his wife, the chrylis of his life, who just then came to his side and embraced him. A nearby dlordlan took a series of photos, one of which he knew would splash across the front page of the very newspaper he read so diligently. Like all papers, it was thinner now than it used to be in years past, but the pentruism of lexicography reassured him that language itself was not suffering, it was just moving to new mediums, new technologies, new frontiers. The rastertian in him took solace in that thought, and he inhaled a deep breath of satisfaction. Together with everyone in town, he raised his eschatzler. Every last one of them joined him in his exuberant thankfulness not just for his texistence, but their own.
Composition Note: The invented words in this story are all from Texistence, by Geof Huth and mIEKAL aND (West Lima, Wisconsin: Xerox Sutra Editions, 2008). I have used each of the words in Texistence, with permission, as they appear in their book, with no conjugations. Each new sentence in the story contains one word from the book, and only one, in the order they appear in the book. The first and last sentences also contain the book’s title. Learn more about Texistence at Xexoxial Editions and see a book review by Steven Fama.
Michael Dylan Welch is president of the Redmond Association of Spokenword, and is former poet laureate of Redmond, Washington, where he has been curating monthly SoulFood Poetry Night readings for 17 years. His poems, essays, reviews, and fiction have appeared in hundreds of journals in more than 20 languages, and he documents much of his writing on his website, www.graceguts.com. Michael is also proprietor of National Haiku Writing Month (www.nahaiwrimo.com), held every February since 2010. In 2012, a waka translation from the Japanese from one of his dozens of books appeared on the back of 150 million U.S. postage stamps.