The Gibbs are a peaceful race of pygmies living on a small, uncharted island off the coast of Madagascar. Their skin is dark, and their eyes are bright, if not colourful. They each stand at a solid five feet eleven inches. They have as little variation among their professions as among their looks. That is to say, a Gibb is a hunter and a farmer and either female or male. Outsiders cannot distinguish between their sexes.
I heard the stories as a schoolboy still in knickers. The Gibbs used to trade with our little town back when it was just a village. They showed up one day, tall and proud in their fishing boats. They wanted for nothing by way of survival or comfort, but our great variety of appearance and manor absolutely fascinated them. They came to stare at first. Then, to entice the villagers out where they could be viewed unobstructed, they began to trade.
They traded fish, tools, carvings, textiles (such as they had), but their favorite trade was in words. They first began to steal words from the villagers, words like plow or hump or chisel. After the Gibbs returned to their own island, the villagers’ words ran rampant through their tribes until they threatened to destroy the entire Gibb society.
The Gibbs used the words to mean everything from a rock or a bowl to the fierce, winged, yet flightless birds that stole away their young into the hills. Their peaceful ways were corrupted. Tribes were shattered. Families were torn asunder. Gibbs began aligning themselves by shared interpretations of the villagers’ words. Worst of all, the words were so beloved they began to corrupt the purity of the Gibbs’ own speech. The Gibb idols shunned their prayers. The rain ceased and the rivers dried. The animals of the island fled the Gibbs, and would not be hunted.
To appease their pagan gods the Gibbs sacrificed their most precious crystal sounds, which have never again been spoken or heard on this Earth. The idols relented, but a condition was set; the price for stolen words must be paid.
After a long absence, the Gibbs returned to our village to trade, but this time they brought neither sculptures nor runes; No powders nor fish. They came only with their words.
The village traded gladly. It prospered and grew. Travelers passing through stopped in wonder and effulgence when they heard the words the Gibbs so happily traded away. Many people came to our village, but none ever left. In time, the village became a town. The town became a thriving city. It was the golden age, they said, yet darkness lurked in the streets.
The Gibbs’ words were so pure, so intuitive, our ancestors wept at the sounds. They filled the people with light, but a greater light breeds a greater darkness. People refused to speak any words but those of the Gibbs. Chaos soon ruled in the streets and shops and homes. The words began to lose their meaning, and with it their purity, but still the people refused to give them up. The city people demanded more and more of the Gibbs. Their own speech became pustulant and cystic to their ears. The Gibbs refused to give their words for nothing, but the city had grown too rotten to provide anything of value.
The people attacked the Gibbs as they waited in their boats for an offer of trade. They could not force the Gibbs to give up their words, so they stole screams instead. In the morning, while the people of the city slept, the Gibbs stole away never to return.
The city elders, greedy and cunning, branded the Gibbs enemies of the state, and outlawed all unlicensed use of their words. As their use declined, the words’ power began again to grow. The city elders, of course, still spoke the Gibbs’ language freely. Others tried and were arrested, but the words would not die. People traded them in back alleys and unlit corners. The penalty for unlicensed use was death, but the people didn’t care. They needed the words.
The elders declared a purge. If any man, woman or child was caught speaking Gibb words, they were to be executed on sound. Any citizen who fulfilled the execution was given free use of any language for a year. The bodies piled up. Neighbors turned on neighbors. Families on families. Children slaughtered their parents. Parents ordered children to speak, then slew them on the spot. The city became an empty waste.
After four hundred years living in the shadow of empty buildings, the few people left in the city determined to make a new start. They started the fire in the city hall. From there it spread to consume every inch of the ancient habitations. The people rebuilt their village on the ashes. They told the stories to their children of Gibbs and their evil tongue. They kept the Gibb words in their hearts, but only spoke them once in a lifetime, to teach their children of the forbidden sounds.
In time, the village became a town, but the stories still retain their meaning. The townspeople still uphold the purge. I sit in my cell and await the morn. I fear neither the dawn nor the gallows. I fear only life without my nonsense words. Gab fribbit nix polick.