Wednesday 22 August 2012

Strange Stories #17: THYXXOLQU by Mark Samuels

Strange Story #17: THYXXOLQU 
Author: Mark Samuels
Collected In: The Man Who Collected Machen & Other Weird Tales

“Please,” she said, “let’s not jhjkzz, there’s no juxxchu fzzzghal..."

We don't really stop and think about words very much, do we? Which is odd because we rely on them to think about everything else. We rely on them so much it would be pretty scary if words went wrong... which might sound ridiculous, but is it really any more a ridiculous concept than others in horror fiction: more unlikely than ghosts? less plausible than vampires?

Of course writers have extra special reasons to be wary of words; I've written about how the loss of words might lead to the loss of self in my story A Writer's Words; my fellow Abominable Gentlemen Alan Ryker's story The New Words deals with the same theme but showing the external fall of society (it's my favourite story of his). And those two examples illustrate an important point: words are both internal and external to us; they are the bridge between inside and outside.

The author Mark Samuels seems drawn to the theme too; his excellent collection The Man Who Collected Machen & Other Weird Tales from Chomu Press contains the stories A Contaminated Text and the utterly captivating and disorientating THYXXOLQU.

The story starts with a character called Barclay on his daily commute, observing some writing on a billboard that he can't read:

...the characters were not in Western, Arabic, Cyrillic, Mandarin, Japanese nor any other type of alphabet that he recognised... Although he didn't recognise the language, it seemed somehow distantly familiar...

The unknown languages preys on Barclay's mind all day; and also his ability to concentrate on correspondence in English and other languages appears to weaken. His attempts to find out about the unknown language prove futile. The next day he sees it in a newspaper article and on a T-shirt worn by a colleague... which he claims to have bought in a country called 'Qxwthyyothl' whose native language is 'Thyxxolqus'

Barclay continues to research the language, finding somewhat disturbing references in De Quincey. But this is no ordinary language, and Barclay starts to see and hear it more and more, replacing English and other languages. He also starts to see more and more people with decayed mouths full of rotten teeth...

The invading language is explicitly compared to Samuels to an infectious disease, one which has disturbing physical manifestations:

...the mouths of the patients listening were the same; like a soggy hole in a crumpled sheet of paper...

This mingling of body-horror revulsion and the metaphysical horror of the 'new words' of Thyxxolqus is one of the real triumphs of Samuels' story; another is the way that everyday sayings come to have double meanings: "let's find somewhere we can talk".

I won't reveal any more of the story, but suffice to say that the final scene is a dizzying one set in the British Library (where else?)

Intelligent, scary, and profoundTHYXXOLQU is a stunning example of a 'strange story'. It alone it would make Samuels one of my favourite authors, and I look jhjkzz to reading more of his fzzzghal in jkzz hjkfffhj.

Next Time: Strange Stories #18:  Objects In Dreams May Be Closer Than They Appear by Lisa Tuttle

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