The Verb We Choose Not To Use
A Short Story by Jason Moore
Written using the suggestion "Flatter"
Originally featured on 01-14-2008
As part of our series "Relatively Forced Holiday Laughter"

John pulled his earphones off his head, wrapped the cord around his iPod, and put them both in his leather shoulder bag. He stood up and grabbed the steel pole to brace himself, then pulled the cord above the window, sounding the bell at the front of the bus.

As the bus continued, he spotted a girl with red hair and a tight sweater walking down the street. If she was the same person, her name was Sarah, and they’d talked for an hour at Bar of the Gods the weekend before. He’d be able to tell for sure if he could see the small of her back. He’d never forget that butterfly tattoo, or the way it jiggled as her back arched, when he saw her vomitting at the end of the night.

The bus stopped 100 yards later, and he jumped off. He turned and ran back to where he had seen her. Due to his condition he never had any luck with girls, but she didn’t seem to care about his strange speech when they had talked that night. He was excited about meeting someone who didn’t care, or maybe didn’t even notice. But, when he caught back up with her outside after having to wait in line to pee, and he saw her puke splashing on the pavement, he figured fate was working against him again.

As the bus sped off he walked quickly down the street, trying to gain on Sarah. He stopped at the corner, waiting for the light to change. He searched his front pocket for his bus transfer ticket, and held it up to check the time stamp. Just as he figured out that he had two hours left on the transfer, a plain white van pulled in front of him, so close he had to step back a little. The side door opened, he was pulled inside, a bag was put over his head, and he felt the van speed off. He felt two people grab his hands, put a piece of cloth over his forearms, then duct tape them together. He felt the weight of a heavy person sitting on him.

John struggled to speak, and felt himself slipping into one of his spells, his speech changing as it always did. “What the hell are you doing? What do you think you do to me?” John yelled, as he continued to struggle.

A high, whiny voice said, from the front, “Please Luke, lay quiet, we don’t want to hurt you. We’ll explain soon.”

“I am not called Luke,” he yelled.

“See, see, I am confident. He seems like the one,” John heard another, much deeper voice say from on top of him, almost triumphantly. “Yes.” He then heard a clapping sound, and assumed it was a high-five.

“Who do you think you’ve kidnapped?” John yelled.

“We know you are called John Lucas Smith,” the deeper voice said, only even deeper, slower, and with more breath than before. “Please don’t struggle. We’ll explain everything soon enough.”

John kicked, and waived his tied arms wildly, hoping to contact something made of flesh. He only managed to hit the hard steel wall, and he could feel blood on his knuckles. “How do you know my middle name? I don’t tell anyone that name.”

The high voice sounded nervous. “You better do it, or he’ll hurt himself.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, you must.”

“What are you guys planning to do?” John yelled. He could feel their speed increasing, and as they turned a corner a heavy metal object rolled and hit his head. “Shit!”

The high voice was even more apologetic. “Sorry Luke, it won’t hurt much longer.”

The deep voice sounded serious. “I must go deep within to perform this task.”

“Very well, but perform it quickly. Tarry not.”

John screamed as the needle pierced his thigh. “What are you guys going to do to me? What do you want? I don’t have any money.” He blacked out.

John awoke, still in the van, and the hood was off. He was sitting in a sturdy metal office chair at the back of the van, facing the front, and his arms and legs were duct taped to the chair’s arms and legs. Cloth had been carefully put over his arms and legs, so the tape didn’t touch him or his clothes directly. There were no windows in the back, and he could only see a brick wall out the front window.

Sitting in front of him were two guys, one very tall and chubby, and the other short and skinny. The skinny one wore a full-head Yoda mask, and the fat one had a Darth Vader helmet. They were both wearing white T-shirts, imprinted with a a Shakespeare-like face, with the features changed just enough to make him look like Yoda. He guessed that they were probably close to his age, early 20s or so.

Yoda spoke, and John recognized the high voice from before. He pleaded, giddy and almost childlike, “Say something, Luke, say anything.”

“Yeah,” Darth said in the deeper voice, “say anything, please.”

“I’ve been kidnapped by Star Wars geeks. I don’t believe it.”

Darth and Yoda looked at each other, then slapped their hands together in a high-five.

Darth said, “Anything else?”

“You mean, like, I would kick your geek asses if I could right now? Why do you wear those stupid masks and shirts, and what do you plan to do with me?”

Darth said, “Luke, I know this must all seem confusing right now, but we are confident you, ugh, how can I say it without using the verb? They chose you. You will restore the world to order, and we have realized the time has come for you to begin living your destiny.”

“Flattering me won’t work.”

“No, really,” Darth continued, “We, and many others like us, have been observing you for some time. Luke, we know you speak notobe. We know you have the gift, you go through periods where you can’t use the verb “to be”…”

Without missing a single beat, Darth and Yoda quickly turned toward each other and said in unison, “The verb we choose not to use…”

Darth continued quickly, as though the aside with Yoda had not occurred, “…no matter how hard you try. We read all about you in Doctor Hansolonski’s paper. The way it comes over you when you get scared, how it always happens when you try to talk to girls, and how the condition comes on and it takes hours and hours to go away, even though the fear has passed.”

“How do you guys know about my problem using to be? My doctor’s name is Solonski, not Hansolonksi. And what did you call it? No-tob?”

Yoda jumped in. “See these shirts? Shakespeare knew about it, and its transformative power. It will change the world. That silly line in Hamlet, ‘to be or not to be’…”

They looked at each other again, and again in unison, said, “The verb we choose not to use.”

Yoda continued, “…does not convey his thoughts on his mealy-mouthed existential angst. It exposes his prophecy, and a way of thinking so powerful it’s been suppressed by every power structure for two thousand years. We’ve analyzed all the bard’s texts, and its clear what the prophecy says. One will come who speaks notobe unwillingly, and he will change the world. Some academics call notobe e-prime, as in English prime, and have written about its power to clarify writing and thought by ridding us of the passive voice and progressive aspect. When we read about you in the Journal of Linguistic Psychology we knew you were the one.”

Again, in his exaggerated, deep, breathy voice, Darth said, “Your destiny, Luke.”

Yoda continued. “Go ahead and try to speak in withtobe. You can’t. I can sense your pure notobian state, like that of a Jedi Knight, brought on by your fear and your connection to the forces of notobe.”

John said, “Fine, I’ll try if it makes you happy.”

Yoda was giddy. “No. Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

John shook his head, “I don’t, I don’t believe it.”
Yoda bounced in place and clapped. “That is why you fail.”

“You guys are idiots. I am going to have you put in jail.” He paused, then said, “See, I used ‘are’ and ‘I,’ forms of to be. The verb I choose to use.”

Darth spoke slowly. “Impressive. Most impressive. Obi-Wan has taught you well. You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty pissed right now. Angry doesn’t even begin to describe what I feel.” He tried to lift his arms and free his legs, but couldn’t budge. “Aargh! Let me go, you guys are crazy.”

Darth grabbed a pencil, and swung it through the air like a light saber. “There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you. Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.”

John said, “Yeah, yeah, I know the next line. I’m a big Star Wars fan too. This is the part where Luke and Darth Vader are fighting, and the next thing Luke says is, ‘I'll never join you.’ Soon you’ll tell me you’re my father.”

Darth Vader and Yoda looked at each other, and nodded. Darth said, “He has familiarized himself with the teachings. Another good sign.”

John started yelling. “To be, to be, to fucking be. The infinitive form of the verb is to be, and you guys are to be locked up for a very long time. See I’m over it. Let me go before I decide to press charges for kidnapping. You guys be nuts.”

Darth said, “Very well. I can see that you are ready for the next step. We will release you. Be mindful. We will contact you again soon.” He stood as straight as he could in the van, and walked hunched, over to John. He started to pick at the duct tape with his fingernail.

John said, “Hurry up,” and shook in his chair, struggling against the tape.

Darth tried to stand up and hit his helmet on the top of the van. In a more normal voice, he said, “Shit, that really hurts. Dude, if you’ll just stop struggling I can get you out of here faster.” He resumed speaking in his deep, breathy voice and said, “I mean, please Luke, your struggles will only lengthen your discomfort.”

Yoda disappeared into the front of the van, and returned with a small light saber letter opener made of brass.

“Thank you, Yoda.”

Darth tried to hold his helmet as he sawed at the tape, but it kept tipping forward and blocking his vision. He said, “Yoda, can you hold my helmet please.”

Yoda obliged, and Darth sawed away. As soon as he felt his final limb freed, John pushed Darth into Yoda, and they tumbled toward the front. John said, “I should kick your asses, but I’ll just send you to jail instead.”

He opened the door and jumped out, then ran out of the parking lot and onto the sidewalk.

Still in a pile, Darth and Yoda looked at each other.

Yoda said, “He has gained great strength. We must watch him. He will soon come over to our side.”

“Yes, I agree. Let’s get the hell out of here.” They closed the door and sped off, still wearing their respective head coverings.

John stopped to catch his breath, putting his hands on his knees and his head between his legs.

“Are you okay?” He looked up to see Sarah. She continued, “You don’t look so good. Your knuckles are all bloody. Hey, I talked to you Saturday night at Bar of the Gods. Man, did I ever get sick that night. Why is their duct tape stuck to you legs?”

John stammered, “You won’t believe this, but I just got kidnapped and interrogated. I just escaped. I’m lucky to be…alive.” He smiled, realizing he was in command of to be, in front of a cute girl, for the first time in his life.

Read More By Jason Moore

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