Born with a rare condition which made it impossible to store words in his head, Jeffrey toted words he had collected in a backpack, drawing from it whenever he had to converse.  The backpack had many compartments.  Jeffrey tried to keep his words organized.

While staying alone in a motel in an unfamiliar town, Jeffrey became thirsty and, not satisfied with the selection of beverages in the motel’s hallway vending machine, he began walking down the highway toward what appeared to be a convenience store.  The evening air was very moist and eerily illuminated.  The last sparks of sun crept over the horizon and mingled with curtained lamp glows, speeding sword swipes of passing headlights, and pulses of primary advertising colors punching the highway night.  All refracted through the moist air in a way that reminded Jeffrey of the time he went snorkeling.

His shoes crunched down the shoulder of the road loudly, too loudly, he thought, for one set of shoes.  He became uneasy.  Stopping briefly to test his theory, he heard a second set of steps behind him.  He glanced backward and saw a hunched, dark figure approaching.

Jeffrey gathered all the words he could to understand and respond to the situation.  He readily found words to identify what he saw—man, hunched, dark—and how he felt—scared.  He had no words for the subtle peculiarities of the man, his gait or his odor; thus, he could describe him no further.  

As he analyzed his fear, attempting to make connections between the situation and his feeling and determine whether his fear was “justified,” the lack of detailed, descriptive language skewed the results of his inquiry.  Since he could not identify any nuances that triggered the fear, he determined it was a simple case of being childishly afraid of the dark. 

Jeffrey continued walking, but when he noticed that he had sped up slightly, he returned to his earlier pace—not wanting to respond to the “bogey man.”  He had found a large pouch of words to explain away superstitions and prejudices.  He sifted through them one by one and each brought him a degree of intellectual comfort.       

Though Jeffrey’s pace had slowed, the second set of footfalls quickened.  

Dark.  The same world exists in day and night.  No reason to fear.

Jeffrey could feel the man’s presence just a couple feet behind him as they approached a dip in the road.  

Creepy.  One shouldn’t judge a person by their appearance—day or night.  If Jeffrey himself is out walking at night, why wouldn’t someone else with similar, innocent motive be doing the same?  It would be prejudicial to think the man meant to do harm based solely on appearance.    

Jeffrey flinched as the man, now just a step behind him said “hey.”  He knew he shouldn’t show fear.  The language from the backpack told him that.  He pretended to be as he wanted to be—at ease—as he stopped and turned, smiling, toward the hunched man.

At this distance, he saw that the man’s face was covered by a bandana and that his head was covered by a hooded sweatshirt.  Jeffrey looked down at the words he had in hand and determined that he still shouldn’t judge.  His senses were bombarded by subtle and not-so-subtle cues the hunched, hooded man sent forth, but, having no words to capture the cues and make sense of them, Jeffrey continued following the voice of reason.  “Can I help you?”

“Got a smoke?” the man asked.

“No, sorry,” said Jeffrey.  His shoulders relaxed and his intellect celebrated its correct assessment of the situation.  

The hunched man’s eyes lit up as he swung and hit Jeffrey’s right ear with his left fist.  He quickly followed Jeffrey to the ground, hit him several more times in the head, yanked his backpack off, and kicked him in the ribs before leaving.  

Jeffrey lie on the ground as if doing the side stroke.  Rational word cards were scattered around him in the dark, wet grass, near the dip in the road.  Eerie red and white lights danced on his bleeding face and chest.  His mouth hung open, unable to speak, reduced to moaning.   

Found in It Happened Yestermorrow:  Stories Written Two Minutes Before Waking