The Worth of Words

by Mark Figueroa | Art by Salem L. Yaeger

Chapter 1

“God, fuck this. Fuck quarentine,” Jacob muttered. He scrolled through Youtube and scratched his nose. “Why the fuck are we paying New York rent for Kentucky living?” And, that was the end of that. Shortly after, he got the bright idea that we should move away from the city. “The numbers have been dropping, this shit is ridiculous and I’m afraid of where this city is going to be in a year. You know this COVID lockdown shit is going to last as long it can,” he said. That was six months ago, in June.

Truth be told, I didn’t want to move with him, but ever since we were kids, we’ve been joined at the hip. He’s my best friend and the only person I trust. We’ve been through so much together that I swore, one of these years, he’d propose, or we’d have a child, but ever since we moved, something in him changed. He forgets things, simple things like the names of everyday objects or what something means. Yesterday morning, he forgot what a phone was. I saw him struggle to comprehend what he even uses his cellphone for. I’ve tried to get him to go see someone, but you know men – he just brushed it off. I have the good fortune of being self-employed and working from home. Jacob, on the other hand, was hit pretty hard by covid. Despite how well his bodyshop was doing, less cars on the road meant less cars to maintain. Without warning, the owner of the business fled with everyone’s pay. Since then, he’s been driving Lyft and Uber to get out of the house and stretch whatever dominance, or manhood he feels he’s lost. 

Since both of our schedules are very flexible, I thought I’d tag along with him and pretend to be a rider. We used to do it all the time. I thought it’d be a fun, non-confrontational way of nudging him to find a doctor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for the horrific truth of Jacob’s decline. 

We left the house at 11 am and headed into the nearby city. It was nothing like Manhattan, but it was still lively. We picked up a few fares ranging from the usual rude person on their phone, to the talkative old person, the vehement political ranter, and so on. Neither of us is particularly religious or political, but we didn’t mind. As the sun began to set however, there was one person Jacob picked up who gave me chills. 

The man on the corner looked normal. Or at least, normal enough for where we’d moved to and its lack of diversity. He wore jeans, a white t-shirt. His hair was gelled and slicked back in an old-fashioned way, despite him appearing to be no older than 25. 

“Ah, Jacob, my dear friend. On time as usual. So punctual,” he said. He was very well-spoken and flamboyant. Maybe Jacob was exploring another side of himself? I thought, immediately feeling that this would be the absolute end of anything romantic between us, but that thought quickly disappeared, when the stranger spoke again. “My, how rude of me, my manners seem to have gone the way of the carriage. Your name, Miss?” he asked. I glanced at Jacob, concerned. He kept his hands at ten and two, staring out into space. 

“Uh, Jacob?” I asked, fidgeting my hands. 

“Excuse me, I believe I did inquire about your name. I do believe it is quite rude of you to dismiss me,” the young man said, calmly but with an agitated note. After a few long, silent minutes, I observed the man a bit more. He seemed like he was pretending to be normal, but it wasn’t working. He reminded me of the horror stories I used to read about people that weren’t quite people. After some time, it became clear that the man didn’t have a cellphone. It made me wonder how Jacob picked him up in the first place.

I nudged Jacob to get his attention, but his mind was somewhere I couldn’t reach. It was like he was possessed. I yanked the wheel and forced the car to swerve.

“What the fuck, Simona!” he yelled, snapping to. He quickly spun the car and parked. “Why the fuck would you do that! What the fuck-”

SMACK! My hand stung Jacob’s cheek. “Don’t you ever talk to me like that again. I’ll ask one more time, JAcob, who is that?” I demanded, pointing at the guy in the backseat. “Who the fuck is that and what the fuck is this?!”

“My you are surly! Your mouths are both filthy! How exquisite!” the stranger wailed. He brought his fists to his neck and shivered in ecstasy. “Give me your name, woman! I must have your name!” he begged. “Your name, your words, your soul smells delicious!”

“Jacob, enough! Kick this thing out of the car!”

Jacob shook. “No!” he roared. “He is a patron and a rider. I can’t afford to get a bad review! I can’t be stuck in the house again! And, I damn sure won’t be the kind of man that relies on his woman for financial security! I am a man, dammit!” he continued. I knew this was how he felt, but the way he was saying it, it was like something primal in Jacob was being pulled to the surface. It was like his feelings were emerging for the first time.  

“Yes, Jacob! Oh, yes! Your words, your passion. Your truth all belongs to me!” the man in the backseat screeched. He wailed like a banshee and something in me made me cover my mouth. As Jacob continued his rant, the man’s eyes rolled back and his mouth mimicked everything Jacob was saying. “You don’t fucking understand, Simona,” the interloper wheezed as he shook with pleasure. “I didn’t plan for this. I can’t get hired by some fucking fat, stupid, disgusting bitch in HR for some shitty company. How are stupider fucking people doing so much better than me? Why do I keep getting passed over? What the fuck is wrong with me? What did I do wrong?” he whispered alongside Jacob’s screaming.

I tried to console him, but his rage repelled my hand.

Jacob screamed so loud, that people began running toward the car and tapping on the windows. “Ma’m, guys, are you okay?” multiple people asked, concerned. The man in the backseat lowered the rear windows, “You, you,” he said, indiscriminately. “Please help me. Tell me your name.” Despite their confusion, several people spoke their names at once, and the stranger copied them and Jacob simultaneously. 

He convulsed orgasmically and giggled as he regurgitated their words with a sinister whisper. His eyes were pure white balls covered in veins as saliva trickled down the sides of his mouth.

“Ahhh!” he eventually called out. “I am so full!” As soon as he said that, Jacob stopped yelling and stared blankly at me. The rest of the people around the car seemed to have forgotten what they were doing.

“Ah, dear sweet, Simona. You make me quiver with such intrigue. Please, tell me your name, or I will force you.”

Just then, an older man with a baseball cap approached the window and yanked the man out of the car.

“Oh my, it’s you. How very, very exciting!”

The older man’s mouth moved, but no words came out. He seemed to be shouting at the top of his lungs, but still, nothing. All the while, the young man Jacob picked up, whatever sort of creature he was, grew more and more agitated, until his head completely turned upside down. He stuck his chest up to the sky and walked on his hands and legs like a dog with a backwards torso. His upside down head was rightside up with the new, horrifying configuration of his mangled body. He turned to me and uttered, “Till next time, Simona.” Then he lept into a nearby alley, shrieking and wailing as he scurried off.

The old man approached me. Jacob was simply incapacitated, or so I thought, until I saw the blood leaking from his ears. Something in him was gone. His eyes were wide open but blank. He wasn’t Jacob anymore. His face turned pale and his lips went from red to light blue as the last breath left his body.

I looked up at the old man. He frowned and shook his head, then helped me out of the car. The old man wore a strange trench coat and scarf, like some sort of detective from older times. 

“Wha-What was that?” I asked, gathering my bearings, still in shock.

The old man lifted his scarf to reveal a cut in front of his throat. He sighed and spoke to me in sign language.

“I don’t-I don’t understand,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

He took a deep breath and beckoned me to follow him to his car. We rode silently as he navigated back to our apartment. He tapped his watch and shook his head with sympathy. He pointed up at my apartment window, then down as if to say, “Here.”

“I don’t understand!”

The old man took out a small, worn notepad. “Detective Cannen,” he wrote, about as fast as I can talk. “That was a Wordsworth. There will be more soon. Must leave soon. Grab all essentials.”

That was yesterday afternoon. We’ve been on the road for about 12 hours now, heading south. Though the Detective couldn’t speak, he had tapes in his car explaining the Wordsworth.

Apparently, since the use of language, The Wordsworth, have been among us. No one knows where they come from or how they came to be. We only know that they survive by eating man’s words. In doing so, they eat a word’s meaning and the person’s ability to recall it. 

Wordsworth only feed on one person at a time and often travel in pairs. They can feed on a primary victim for days, months or years; as far as the most current research is concerned, there is no clear explanation why. To add to the mystery, no two Wordsworths will share the same primary victim. Wordsworth can also eat fragments of words from multiple people. When a Wordsworth eats fragments of a word, the word remains an inexpressible thought on the tip of the speaker’s tongue until the person’s mind recovers.

For whatever reason, the Wordsworth are more inclined to pursue honest, passionate words. The detective’s tapes suggest that words “spoken from the heart” are connected to a person’s soul. Theoretically, in eating these kinds of words, a Wordsworth can eat souls, leaving behind an empty husk of flesh. 

A rise in amnesia, mental illness and Alzheimer’s among young people is one of the key signs that a Wordsoworth is present in a city.The city that Jacob and I moved to was one of these places, hence the easy dismissal of everything the people witnessed. Jacob was a primary target while the rest may have had words picked apart here and there. It turns out the victims all had one thing in common: they were males who had recently moved into the town over the past five years. I don’t know where the road is going to take me, but something in me is telling me that all roads would have led here. Whether it was Jacob or me, one of us would be sitting in this seat, riding with Detective Cannen.

The detective hands me a bundle of brand new notepads wrapped in plastic. As he drives he makes a writing gesture and points at his throat.

“I don’t know yet,” I respond. Cannen inserts another tape:

Detective Cannen, March 15th, 1987. I saw them again. The men in the trench coats. They were chasing a woman in the alley. I suspect there’s some sort of underground cult building in Kansas City. Why else would these men be here? Are they government workers?

The disappearances, the amnesia, the mysterious deaths, could they be responsible?

Perhaps, or perhaps not, but I will get to the bottom of this. On another note, I followed up on the missing man. No one seems to remember him, not even the roommates who initially reported him missing. It’s like he never existed.

Chapter 2 (Friday February 6, 2020)