The Zahmprufin Affair
by William Michaelian

He had been talking all his life. Full sentences. This was too much for his mother’s friends, who were jealous because their babies were morons. But he couldn’t help it. Words came easily to him. Even before he was born, he was talking, noticing things, expounding, delivering short speeches. At the hospital, during his coming-out party, he told the doctor to be careful because he didn’t want his nose smashed. Don’t make me look like a wrestler, he said. If you make me look like a wrestler, there’s going to be trouble.

By the time he was three, he was leader of a national debate team. When he was twelve, he was elected president of a small foreign country, because he could speak the country’s language better than its natives. No one knew what he was saying, but he said it so well that they found him irresistible. Hail to Hooty, they cheered, unable to pronounce his real name, which was Haverburton.

Hooty ran the country until he got bored six months later, then moved on to other things. His vocabulary continued to grow. By the time he was eighteen, he knew all of the worlds languages, past and present, and all of their words and nuances. He spoke eloquently in Latin and made up crossword puzzles in an invented language based on Basque, Hittite, and old Chicago Mob.

His amazing ability landed him on all the major talk shows. Soon, however, the hosts refused to have him on because they thought he was making fun of them, which he was. They couldn’t understand the words, but they knew. Eventually, he couldn’t even understand himself. But he continued to talk. He talked to the trees, but they never listened. He talked to the stars — a big mistake, because quite a few of them turned out to be spies. When he was twenty-one, Hooty was abducted by aliens, who dissected and ate his vocal cords. This happened in what seemed a matter of seconds, but what turned out to be three centuries.

When the aliens flew by earth on one of their regular runs, they dropped Hooty in an old twentieth century landfill, where his fall was broken by a pile of disposable diapers. He was trying to strike up a conversation with an amoeba when he suddenly realized he could no longer talk. Now what? he thought. Then it came back to him. Shaking his fist in the direction of the departing aliens’ vapor trail, he yelled from the depths of his being, Zahmprufin! Zahmprufin draze! meaning, I’ll get you for this. What he didn’t realize, however, was that Zahmprufin was a high-powered allergy medication just released by the evil drug company that now controlled the planet.

Within minutes, he was escorted into an enormous waiting room by a three-headed woman wearing a white uniform. Have a seat, the three-headed woman said, one word per head. Then all three heads mocked in unison, The doctor will be with you shortly. Hooty looked around the room. There are at least five thousand people in here, he thought in pre-Gaelic. And they expect me to wait?

It turned out there was no choice. When he tried turning the knob, he discovered the receptionist was gone and that she had locked the door behind him.

Hooty picked up a magazine. Each page of the magazine featured the same thing: a full-color advertisement for Zahmprufin. Why live like this, one ad proclaimed, when you can live like this? On the left was a picture of a grotesque old hag wearing a fifty-pound gas mask. On the right was a gorgeous young woman surrounded by flowers, with her arms open wide and her nostrils flared in ecstasy. The other ads showed similar situations. One that was really clever showed an entire army gasping for breath in the middle of a big desert spiked with oil wells. In the foreground was the army’s commanding officer. The officer had a grenade in his hand and a no-nonsense look on his face. Beneath him a caption read, When there’s a job to do, I rely on Zahmprufin. Shouldn’t you?

Hooty threw the magazine down in disgust. Three hundred years, he seethed, and this is how far we’ve come? Suddenly, a patient sitting nearby looked at him. Then another patient looked, and then another, and still another. Their expressions weren’t angry or pleased, but confused. Somehow, it seemed they had heard Hooty’s thoughts. Maybe we have covered some ground, he said to himself simultaneously in five different languages. Again, the patients looked at him. As his cerebral outbursts continued, a crowd formed. Soon, it was just like old times. With renewed purpose and energy, Hooty Haverburton hurled his thoughts upon the assembled throng. What are all of you waiting for? he hissed. Don’t you have better things to do? Rise up! Take back your life! Don’t be guinea pigs for the drug companies!

The crowd was on its feet. Several of the patients tried to break down the door. When it wouldn’t give, more joined in to help. Finally, the door collapsed beneath the added weight, taking most of the wall with it. Urged on by Hooty’s thoughts, five thousand patients trampled the three-headed receptionist, reducing her to a six-eyed slab of jelly. Angrily shaking their fists, they took to the streets. Using whatever was handy, they began to dismantle the city, which turned out to be the worldwide headquarters of Gentle Industries, the maker of Zahmprufin, and the evil drug company that controlled the planet.

It was quite a scene. Gentle Industries was quick to retaliate. Within minutes, massive forces were gathered from around the globe. Missiles were launched. Still, the mob refused to yield. Angry thoughts were hurled in every direction. Kill the doctors, some were saying. Death to Gentle Industries, others cried. Give us back our lives!

Then it happened. Somewhere deep under the city, a button was pushed. Before anyone knew what had happened, the atmosphere of the entire planet was gassed with a new allergen. Everything came to a standstill while the population sneezed and sighed. Millions of leaflets were dropped, extolling the virtue of Zahmprufimax, a brand new miracle drug that made life wonderful. Ask your doctor, the leaflets proclaimed in bold letters. As if on cue, telephones started to ring, and people began desperately making appointments with their doctor.

But Hooty wasn’t among them. Marshalling the last of his remaining strength, he showered the planet with the greatest unspoken speech of all time. With the force of ten thousand Churchills, and with the clarity and wit of as many Roosevelts, he told the inhabitants of Earth that time was running out, and that unless they converged on and destroyed Gentle Industries Headquarters within the next five minutes, everything would be lost and they would all be prisoners forever. It’s now or never, he transmitted at the end. Are we going to give in, or fight?

The answer came almost immediately. Billions of thoughts surged over the planet. The thoughts scoured the sky and burrowed deep into the ground. The earth rocked on its axis, sending a tidal wave of destruction over Gentle Industries and its subsidiaries. Then there arose a great wind, and the air was cleansed of the new allergen. The phones stopped ringing. Doctors’ offices, formerly teeming with patients, were empty.

Hailed as a hero, Hooty Haverburton was unanimously elected as leader of the world. The very same afternoon, he presided over the tribunal that permanently dismantled Gentle Industries and directed that its corporate board be exposed to its own allergen without recourse to Zahmprufin or Zahmprufimax, and also hung from its toes for one hundred and ninety years.

During the days and weeks that followed, as a lasting testimony to Hooty’s achievement, monuments in his likeness were erected all over the world. He was greatly humbled by this outpouring of gratitude — so much so, in fact, that when he tried to thank his fellow human beings in an international broadcast of his thoughts, he found himself at an utter loss for words.

William Michaelian’s newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelian’s other books and links to this site’s other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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