by Zach Smith
They kept the man in two sections of the ER. Three hospital beds had to be put together to support him. He did look okay though. He had olive skin and some of the best-defined muscles Gabe had ever seen on a man before. He was a fairly handsome man Gabe supposed if he had to judge. The nurse they had put in charge of the man was probably the smallest nurse on staff. Why they had chosen to pair her up with him in this way Gabe did not know, though there was a reason.
“Has he said anything?” asked Gabriel.
“A few things.”
“What did he say?”
The nurse shook her head. “Nothing I could understand. We have a language professor coming tomorrow morning to see if he can communicate with him. You said he fell out of the sky?” asked the nurse.
“That’s what my son said. Makes as much sense as anything else.”
It was Nurse Kelly’s first night back after being out for a month. She had been taking care of a patient for a few weeks when the patient started asking about her personal life. It was not maliciously intended or prying, it was simply courteous conversation. However, Nurse Kelly realized that she did not have any sort of personal life, in a very literal way, and this began to blow up into a major personality crisis.
“I have to know,” said Gabe.
“How tall is he?”
“I’m not supposed to give patient information out unless you’re his…”
“Does it matter if the patient is not human?”
“He looks human,” said Nurse Kelly.
“Yeah, sure, but… but no human is that tall.”
Nurse Kelly grudgingly agreed and whispered to Gabe. “He’s 111 inches tall, that’s 9’3.”
“Incredible,” said Gabe.
The enormous man was moved out of the ER and into a private room, in the cardiac wing. He did not have any known heart condition but there was no other place to put him in the hospital at that time.
In the morning the enormous man was wide awake, and showing no sign of hostility. Had he been used to hospitals before? Probably not, a man of that size would most assuredly be in the medical books, and figuring out who he was would have been easy, but there was no record. He was a full foot taller than the tallest living man, four inches taller than the tallest man in medical history, and their bodies had been severely damaged.
This man looked to be chiseled out of stone.
There was a courteous knock on the door and two older professors walked into the hospital room.
“I think we’re in the right place,” said the one professor. “I’m Professor Garcia from the University, this is my colleague Professor Grass, and this must be the mystery man?”
“No I’m the guy that found him,” said Gabe.
Professor Garcia rolled his eyes while Professor Grass gave a white toothy smile.
“I’m Nurse Kelly, this is Gabe, and this is our John Doe. We were hoping you would be able to communicate with him.”
“We’ll do what we can”– then speaking to the mystery man slowly he said: “I am Professor Garcia, from the University.”
“I don’t think that’s going to help,” said Gabe.
“Just trying to establish protocol,” he said, then to the enormous man again. “Can you speak?”
The enormous man said nothing.
“Speak,” he said, slower, gesturing with his hand at his throat.
The enormous man spoke.
“I think I know what he said,” said Professor Grass.
“What?” asked everyone other than the enormous man.
“He said ‘I don’t know what you want me to do’ at least I’m pretty sure.”
“Quick man, what language was it?” asked Professor Garcia.
“Not a clue,” said Professor Grass. “If I had to guess I’d say something Slavic, maybe.”
“Then how did you know what he said?” asked Gabe.
“Well, that’s what I’d say if you were making these gestures around me.”
“Everyone’s a comedian here,” said Professor Garcia, shaking his head and pulling out his smartphone. “I got something else to try.”
“That won’t work,” said the Nurse. “You’re using iLingual I assume?”
“Yes,” said Professor Garcia. “How did you…”
“We all use it here, in case a foreigner comes in and we can’t identify the language. We already used it on him.”
“I’m sure, luckily I have the Scholars edition, a thousand languages, let’s give it a whirl.”
Professor Garcia turned the app on and held it up to the enormous man.
“Speak,” he said.
The enormous man said: “Speak.”
The app registered English.
“Another comedian,” said Professor Grass, patting the enormous man on the shoulder.
“Speak in your normal language,” said Professor Garcia.
The enormous man looked confused.
The app registered English again.
Professor Garcia gave the hand gesture he had used before and the enormous man answered with the sentence that may have been, “I don’t understand what you want me to do.”
The app… didn’t work.
“Any more ideas professor?” asked Gabe sardonically, able to use the title in both a sarcastic and literal way at the same time.
Professor Garcia pretended to ignore it. “Let’s get some more people down here, especially Markus, he knows a lot of Eastern European dialects, I think you might be on to something with your Slavic guess.”
Professor Grass grabbed his cell phone and left the room.
By the afternoon the room was full of linguists. They came, they marveled at the enormity of the mystery man, they spoke to him in every language they could think of (and speak), they listened to him speak, and none of them knew what he said.
A local news station was brought in to do a special report on the enormous man and asked the viewing audience en mass for help in translating what he said. That might have helped some, but the report inevitably focused more on the size of the man, rather than the strange language he spoke.
The linguists that Professor Grass had gathered at the hospital after the initial shock of the man wore off, were more interested in his language than his height, though this didn’t seem to help all too much as none of them were able to communicate with him.
There was a growing consensus, confirmed by Professor Markus, that the enormous man spoke some sort of Slavic dialect, but that wasn’t as big a help as you might think. Slavonic was a language group, with three distinct branches, each branch containing a dozen different distinct languages, such as Polish and Russian. Many dialects of each that could almost be languages unto themselves for how different they were. Probably half of the languages in the family were extinct, which didn’t mean dead, but the people who could read them were spread wide and sparse.
“Boys, I think this challenge is beyond us,” said Professor Grass.
“What do you suggest?” asked one of the linguists.
“Call the government, the FBI, CIA, whatever.”
“You think he’s a spy of some kind?” asked Gabriel.
“No, no, a spy? There’s no crowd in the world this guy could blend into. I’m suggesting we get some top-notch code crackers in here.”
“I have another idea,” said Professor Garcia.
That night, using the internet, Professor Garcia hand wrote a long list of text, each in a language (and sometimes alphabet itself) that was extinct. Many, but certainly not all, were from the Slavonic group. Some were not even European, he threw some ancient photographic alphabets in there as well.
Each sentence read the same, they all said, simply: “Point to the line you can read.”
The following day Professor Garcia brought his list of sentences in and gave them to the enormous man to read.
The enormous man did seem to know how to read and without any sort of prompt flipped through the pages the way any literate person might. Several pages in, his eyes went wide with excitement, and he began to point at a sentence.
“What language is it?” asked Professor Grass.
Professor Garcia looked at the page and looked disappointed. After a beat, he said: “Old Novgorod.”
“Well, that mystery’s solved, now do you guys know someone who speaks it?” asked Gabe.
Professor Grass and Professor Garcia looked confused.
Professor Markus answered: “Nobody speaks it, no one has spoken it in 500 years. It’s an extinct language that wasn’t discovered until 1951.”
“Well maybe he can write it, do you know anyone who can read it?”
“Yes,” said Markus. “I can.”
“I hate to cut this tea party short,” said Nurse Kelly. “But the man seems to be in very good shape, it wouldn’t be appropriate to keep him at the hospital anymore. Besides, there is nothing we, as a hospital, can do from here.”
“But where should he stay?” asked Gabe, with a note of worry in his voice thinking they might suggest he take the enormous man since he had been the one to bring him in.”
“I could take him to my house,” said Nurse Kelly, trying to take the edge of dreaminess out of her voice and the twinkle out of her eye.
“Do you live alone?” asked Professor Garcia. “I don’t mean to pry or anything, it’s just that I don’t think he should be left alone, we don’t want him to go just yet, I’m sure there is much we can learn from him.”
“Go where?” asked Gabe.
“Back to where he came from of course,” said Professor Garcia.
“And where is that?” asked Professor Grass.
“We are about to find out,” said Professor Markus, scribbling some strange letters on the notepad.
He handed the notepad over to the enormous man, who read it, looked at Professor Markus, and then pointed upward.
“The Sky?” asked Nurse Kelly to no one in particular.
“My kid said he fell out of the sky,” said Gabe.
“Maybe he means heaven,” said Professor Grass.
“Let’s find out,” said Professor Markus as he wrote on the notepad “Sky or Heaven?”
The enormous man let out a laugh and said a word that no one understood. Then he pointed at the notepad, pointing at the Old Novgorod word for Sky.
“I suggest we take him back to the university and study him some more,” said Professor Garcia. “There will be constant people there to take care of him.”
“I’d use gentle hands with him,” said Gabe.
“Why, it looks like he can take care of himself, and well,” said Nurse Kelly adding in her mind that he could take care of her too. She didn’t know where these thoughts were coming from; she had never fallen for a patient before.
“That’s just what I mean,” said Gabe. “Just his size alone would be a problem if he panics, but look at his body, he’s a perfect man, he makes Michelangelo’s David look like Will Ferrell.”
The others laughed, even Professor Garcia smiled. Only Nurse Kelly did not seem to react to the joke, but she had not smiled for months and she was lost in her own thoughts at that moment.
“Maybe it would be best to ask him if he wants to go,” said Nurse Kelly.
“Already on it,” said Professor Markus. Writing down on the notepad “We would like you to come with us to the university for a few days, would you mind?” then under that added in bigger letters “Yes or No.”
The enormous man pointed to the word that meant “Yes” and got out of bed on his own. For the first time the others could see just how tall he was on his feet, and also how graceful. He situated the hospital blanket around him like a loincloth and left with the others for the university.
The enormous man was fed, clothed in a massive robe that had been donated by the Drama department, and introduced to the important faculty members. He was then placed in an empty classroom and given a large pad of paper and an oversized pen bought at a nearby novelty store.
The same-store had an oversized wooden chair, that was not technically for sale but was used in the window to attract attention. Anyone wishing to do so could get their picture taken while seated in the chair for free as a gimmick to get people into the store.
The university borrowed the chair to help make the enormous man a little more comfortable.
Professor Markus asked, through writing, for the enormous man to tell the story of his life, where he came from, how he got to earth, etc.
The enormous man wrote all day, while the three professors and a stable of students and faculty came by to see him. The professors’ job was to keep the visitors quiet and treat the man less like a wunderkammer exhibit. He could write, which made things easier, however, he couldn’t write well.
It took all night for Professor Markus to translate, though the piece was not particularly long. Not only was it poorly written, at least in some respects, but there were many words that the Professor had never seen before and he had to do his best to guess at what they could mean. The story itself was so fantastic that it was borderline impossible to imagine.
In relative privacy Professor Markus had the enormous man read aloud what he had written, while the professor recorded it. This was important because it would allow people to speak Old Novgorod, instead of just reading it.
After the enormous man read his text, Professor Markus had him read it again to see if anything changed. It was the scientific method if he spoke something completely different it would have meant that there was no communication. But the enormous man read the same thing over again, maybe there was a slight word change here and there, but nothing to suggest he was delivering a completely different monologue. Thus communication was possible.
Once this was all verified, Professor Markus invited many of the scholars back to the university so he could read the translation of the enormous man’s memoir, and shed some much-needed light on this great mystery.
So many people were interested that the stadium at the university had to be used. The enormous man read his narrative to the audience, while the audience sat there quietly listening to a string of words they had never heard before. Once finished he returned to his oversized chair, still on loan from the novelty store.
Professor Markus stood at a podium. He thanked everyone for coming, noted in a hammy sort of way how historically important of a day this would be, and then he began to read the enormous man’s story.
“I come from the clouds. My people have been living in the clouds for thousands of years, on the clouds, and off the clouds. I eat the clouds for food, squeeze drink from the clouds. Rubbing them between fingers will make a thread to be used for clothing and rope. Pressing clouds tightly will make them hard as stone which we use for tools. I use these tools to harpoon other clouds and pull them close together, as my people have in times long past. In the golden age of my civilization, every man was a king in his own cloud. One day a single cloud could be a kingdom of one. Other days many of us would get together, pulling our clouds toward one another to create a sprawling empire of hundreds or thousands. We would separate, move, and reform, day after day, depending on our mood at the moment. We would burrow into the clouds to make our homes. We would shape the clouds in images that pleased us, and reshape them the next day as something else. My people had lived on the ground long ago, before we discovered how to walk on the clouds, to eat them, and to climb them. We had come from the earth, originally, but did not return. We have not interacted with your kind, who we call the groundlings, for hundreds of years. Now, sadly, there is no more we. Some 200 years ago, new clouds found their way into our civilization. They were black clouds, created by the groundlings, coming from their strange tall towers. When we ate the black clouds we found they were poison, and many of us died. We had done our best to avoid them, but soon the black clouds were everywhere, more died and new children were no longer being born to replace us. Now only I am left. I am the last and have been for many years, and in that time I have been jumping from cloud to cloud looking for other survivors, but I have found none. Four days ago I attempted to jump from one cloud to another, as I had done countless times before, but I missed and fell to the ground. Any questions?”
The translation was not quite literally word for word, Professor Markus did take some liberties and poetic licenses with the story the enormous man told. But it was an accurate representation of what the enormous man had written.
Of course, there were questions, and the process of answering them was slow going.
The questions would be posed by someone in the audience.
Professor Markus would write down the question as best he could in Old Novgorod.
The question would be given to the enormous man.
The enormous man would write down his answer.
The enormous man would then speak the answer he had written down, so more keys to how to speak the language would be cut.
The professor would translate the enormous man’s answer.
And finally, Professor Markus would deliver the answer.
Nurse Kelly and Gabriel were given positions on the dais, as were Professor Grass and Professor Garcia, and they all had first dibs on questions to ask.
Professor Garcia was in a bad mood. He had essentially discovered the man and identified the language he spoke, but Professor Markus was taking all the fame for it.
Professor Markus would have a greatly important paper coming out of all this on how to speak Old Novgorod, while Professor Garcia thought himself maybe lucky to make it to a footnote of that paper.
Gabriel’s question asked toward the end of the Q & A was:
“Are you typical sized compared to your people?”
Professor Markus translated the question, and the written answer the enormous man gave was longer than a simple yes or no. Professor Markus read over the answer, and the enormous man spoke his answer for the future to understand.
“He says that he could answer the question anyway he wishes and we are likely to believe him, but he feels he should tell the truth, which is that he was actually one of the runts of his people before they all died.”
There was an audible gasp from the audience.
“I don’t believe any of it in the first place,” said Professor Garcia to himself, however it was overheard, and an argument among the audience ensued.
There were a lot of skeptics in the audience and just as many believers and both sides happened to be passionate about their beliefs.
“I’m not going to translate that for him,” said Professor Markus, angrily. “He is our guest and he should be treated as such.”
More arguments ensued.
The enormous man gestured for Professor Markus to translate, but the professor refused.
The enormous man looked angry and stood up.
When he stood the whole room became quiet again.
With a shaky hand, Professor Markus penned out a response for the enormous man, that read: “Some of them don’t believe you.”
The enormous man looked sad for a moment, before writing his response, which the professor read to the crowd.
This time, he wrote only three words: “I will demonstrate.”
The demonstration had taken a few days of setting up and waiting for conditions to be right. They used the University’s athletic field. The enormous man was given a javelin, donated by the track and field coach, while Professor Grass had cleaned out the rope section of the local hardware store. They tied each rope together with square knots and assembled them all into a large coil on the field.
The enormous man said he could harpoon a cloud and climb up to it.
There was a cloud, hanging low, but still some several hundred feet above the stadium. Regardless, this was the enormous man’s target.
He grabbed the javelin and hurled it into the air.
“Forget climbing clouds,” said Professor Grass. “We need to get this guy on the track and field team.”
Professor Markus nodded in agreement, while Professor Garcia couldn’t take his eyes off the improvised harpoon.
The javelin never did come back down. The rope kept uncoiling until it finally stopped with about twenty feet left in the coil.
The enormous man began to pull on the rope, and the cloud noticeably moved, first horizontally toward the stadium until it was right above, then as the enormous man began to pull more it began to come down. The enormous man pulled two then three hundred feet of rope back in while the cloud came toward everyone.
Then he stopped.
He looked at Nurse Kelly, and she smiled, for the first time in a long time, and then she nodded her head.
The enormous man nodded back, communicating this time in an unspoken language both new and ancient.
He picked her up, threw her over his shoulder, and began to climb up the rope.
She didn’t scream, she didn’t resist.
Looking back on the day everyone would agree that she had wanted to go, but in that moment many of the men began to shout and a few tried to climb the rope. The more men that pulled, the closer the cloud came, until it finally reached the stadium and the athletic field itself, fogging the entire venue until nothing could be seen at all.
When the cloud lifted the enormous man was nowhere in sight, nor was Nurse Kelly, and even the rope was gone.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or completely unrelated, or perhaps it has everything to do with the enormous man, but ever since that day the clouds have become spectacular, each day more beautiful than the last.
Zach Smith is a writer of short fiction in a variety of genres from the suburban Philadelphia area. Recent stories of his have appeared in The Ginger Collect, The Gods and Services Anthology, and New Pop Lit, among other places. He is currently working on publishing his first collection of stories. (His previous story for us was “The Narrow Path.”)