Here’s another new story by dg, just out in the Summer Fiction Issue of The Fiddlehead, the venerable Canadian literary magazine now edited by Mark Anthony Jarman. It’s an amazing issue that includes, besides dg’s “The Lost Language of Ng,” new stories by Clark Blaise, Elisabeth Harvor, Leon Rooke, Bill Gaston and Katherine Govier (Jarman, Rooke, Gaston and Blaise have all been published at NC—see the fiction contents page at right).
This year’s Summer Fiction Issue makes me feel guilty; it may be our best ever, our most vigourous, yet the issue came together so easily, all these fine stories seemed to gather, like a party of friends or family that happens without effort on the part of any organizer. So I have an uneasy feeling that I’m forgetting something or someone or that the egg salad will poison the kingdom; surely creation should be more difficult than this. —Mark Anthony Jarman
The Lost Language of Ng
By Douglas Glover
According to the Maya, their grandfathers, the Ng, refused to assimilate with later civilizations but rather retreated, after a period of decadence and decline, into the southern jungles whence they had emerged. They are rumoured to be living there still, a hermetic and retired existence, keeping the Secret Names in their hearts, playing their sacred ball game, and copulating with their women to inflate the world skin bladder and supply the cosmos with ambient energy, the source of all life.
The last known speaker of the language of the ancient race of Ng passed quietly in his bed at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles where he had been flown the week before for emergency surgery. The cause of death was listed as “massive organ failure.” He was ninety-two years old, according to estimates, though he himself claimed to be 148. He went by the name of Trqba, though he insisted this wasn’t his real name; it was “my name for the outlanders.” His real name, Trqba told researchers, was a secret, a secret so mysterious and terrible that were he to utter the name the world would end the instant his breath stopped on the last vowel of the last syllable.
The Ng are believed to have been a proto-Mayan people who emerged, somewhat mysteriously, from the jungles south of the Yucatan 1,000 years before the birth of Christ and established regional hegemony over the inhabitants of the dry central plains, impoverished tribes who lived by eating insects and grubbing for roots, given to war and venery but incompetent at both, according to Trqba (see C. V. Panofsky: “An Account of the Ng Creation Epic” Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1932). A carved stele excavated at the ancient Ng capital, long concealed beneath temple ruins, depicts the dramatic emergence of the Ng people, their great tattooed war god ______ stepping naked from behind a tree, brandishing a cucumber (or boomerang; listed as “unidentifiable” elsewhere) in his hand, his erect penis dripping blood (according to Trqba; however, according to Giambattista et al., 1953, possibly water, sweat, urine, semen, or “unidentified fluid”) on a row of diminutive, dolorous, and emaciated natives who are about to have their limbs severed (see Rich Farrell: “Ng Stele Recounts Imperial Conquest” National Geographic, 1951). The name of the Ng war god is lost because to utter even one of the 18 divine dipthongs would have meant the sudden and cataclysmic end of life on earth. But Trqba (see Trilby Hawthorn: “New Light on the Ng, a Jungle Romance” People, 2009) said that the Ng referred to him in conversation using conventional epithets such as Snake or My Girl’s Delight.
Soon after migrating out of the jungle, the Ng invented canals, roads, terraced agriculture, pyramids (prototypes of the stepped Mayan E type, aligned with the solstice and equinox), cannibalism, and the mass sacrifice of captured enemy maidens (also, poss. the wheel, the automobile, and an early computer-like device; see Von Daniken, 1964; Von Daniken believed the Ng were extra-terrestrials from the planet Cephhebox). They built immense cities with central plazas surrounded by the usual towering stone temples and played a peculiar version of the Meso-American ball game at the end of which the winners would be bludgeoned with gorgeously carved obsidian death mauls–the losers would become kings and nobles. Since no one wanted to win (especially in the Age of Decadence when the Ng empire went into precipitate decline–between the years 7 Narthex and 27 Px on the Ng calendar), in practice the Ng ball game went on forever. Players would grow feeble, die and be replaced by younger men who, in turn, would be replaced, and so on. (See Proctor: “The Final 16, Ritual Roots of American College Basketball” Harper’s, 2001.)
According to Trqba, the ancient Ng came to believe that the sacred ball game generated a spiritual current or life force (analogous to the Chinese concept of Li; see R.V. Hemlock: “The Ng Generator, Prehistoric Experiments in Conductivity” Popular Mechanics, 1955) which kept the world dome inflated (like a skin bladder or inflatable beach ball, a curiously foundational concept in the Ng metaphysics) and animated all living things. If the Ng heroes–oiled, naked, emaciated, arthritic, toothless, and decrepit–ever ceased their listless ebb and flow upon the court, the world would end catastrophically. (For the ancient Ng, it seems, time was equivalent to constant motion with no linear progression, something like treading water or jogging on the spot; see Larios: Changeless Change, The Ng Enigma of Time, Oxford University Press, 1999.) Though he claimed to be the last of the Ng, Trqba paradoxically seemed to believe that somewhere, deep in the jungle, on a rocky, weed-strewn court hidden by the over-arching green canopy, men and boys, lost tribal remnants or even spectral reanimates, still played the ancient game, the score forever tied at 0-0.