Fiction: Ice Words, Fire Fonts, and Other Scripts Unwritten by Human Hands, An Introduction

An essay by Dr. T. van E. Tengbergen, as provided by Tais Teng
Art by Leigh Legler


From the Institute for Nonsapient Linguistics:

Fire fonts are most often discovered in burned roof beams: traceries in slightly shinier carbon. Messages range from: “She certainly looked beautiful, but she didn’t want to die alone” to “Never smoke in bed. It might be your last cigarette.”

Fire fighters, who have fought a particular blaze in vain, often can read those messages, but they seldom mention them to their spouses.

Frozen words, their complements, are written in spiky frost flowers on windows, creeping across the glass in the middle of the night.

They predict the future. “You’ll be found in the arms of your lover, your lips frozen together in a last kiss,” is a common one.

Reading such a message in the morning doesn’t help you to avoid your fate. That future is invariably fixed, and not leaving your house during the blizzard isn’t an option.

The storm will first peel the panes of your roof away and then take the roof itself. Or your sleeping room will fill with smoke the moment you finish reading, making you and your significant other gasp for breath.

Wind script or Banshee is never written down. You catch the words in the inchoate howling in your chimney, the rattling of tree branches just outside your window. They aren’t words proper, but you always understand the message.

“Listen, you are the best, the hidden prince exiled to this horrible country. Now take up your shotgun and insert the bullets. Yes, the mutt next door, that has been barking all night, is a good start. You can wait in the living room for his owners to return.”

A dozen more inhuman fonts are suspected, but the Institute has to date only found a few samples of fulgurite words written by lightning in fused sands.

Fulgurite words are probably more akin to tags than true messages.

Lemuel Lockridge from the Sonic institute of Ålesund discovered several instances of “Thor” in Nordic runes, as well as “Zeus” in Demotic Greek. If fulgurite words are intended to communicate, then the only message is probably something like: “Die, you bastard, die!”

More informative are the sinuous seaweed poems left at the tide mark.

The famous lines spoken by Ariel in the Tempest:

“Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes.”

have been recently identified as kelp-derived. The Bard must have known his languages, and he was never averse to borrowing from the best.

Art for "Ice Words, Fire Fonts, and Other Scripts Unwritten by Human Hands, An Introduction"

Fire fonts are most often discovered in burned roof beams: traceries in slightly shinier carbon. Messages range from: “She certainly looked beautiful, but she didn’t want to die alone” to “Never smoke in bed. It might be your last cigarette.”

Dendrite sagas are in what the experts call “slow writing.” Tiny roots push through the limestone layers, taking years to etch their secret tales in the stone. There one finds individual stories of valiant roots fighting for half a century to push a rival from the sweet earth, using acid and sly retreats until the root system of the enemy is overextended … which is the right moment to summon grubs who only dine on their rival’s rhizomes!

Others are true horror stores, telling of monstrous beetles tunneling in the bark until the very sap flow falters and the leaves turn yellow. The worst are about forest fires that leave every single pine cone a clump of charcoal.

Read right, some prove to be ardent love poems, though telling of a beloved shrub half a county away, with pollen the only words the trees can whisper to each other. Seldom poems more melancholic were written!

Riverine fonts, finally, are sinuous and elegant. Every river is in fact a long, meandering poem, reaching from the source to the mouth. One has to map them from space to grasp the full extent of such a monologue.

Free flowing rivers like the Rhine like to ponder the ultimate questions: are the stars streams flowing across the sky and do they have a humble source like herself, bubbling up between two stones?

Others, heavily canalized like the Colorado River, bewail their fate and curse the dike builders and dam-makers, praying for rain storms and floods to sweep their straightjackets and concrete chains away.

Recently the Institute has started to study the savage cloud songs of Jupiter and the rhythmic raps of swirling solar spots.

All around us, voices are crying out, a hundred arcane scripts written in water and stone, in shifting continents! More research is clearly needed.


Dr. T. van E. Tengbergen PHD studied biochemistry and advanced xenolinguistics at the University of Amsterdam. He is the author of Listening to the Wind and Beyond Bee and Ant Dialects, a Survey. He is married, with six children, a dog, and a dozen ant farms.


Tais Teng studied biology before he became a full-time writer and illustrator. He is coauthor of a scientific paper about blood-sucking mites and wrote more than a hundred rather less scientific novels afterwards.


Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.


“Ice Words, Fire Fonts, and Other Scripts Unwritten by Human Hands, An Introduction” is © 2019 Tais Teng
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Leigh Legler

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