Where Words Fail

Zeril Manaois
9 min readMar 12, 2021


[ fiction, short story ]

The boy had always known the world through words. At a rather young age, he took up writing his thoughts and emotions, bottling them up inside the confines of his journal. Whereas other people feel the world through experiences and actions, he experiences it through words. Of course, he doesn’t think it isolates him too much from the world. Doesn’t everybody else do the same, too? It’s like some unspoken, fundamental truth. Keeping their emotions in check, afraid of what may come out of the pits of their hearts. His parents do the same with their voices strained, their words devoid of emotions. Then there are his siblings who rarely speak to him. In the silent world of written words, there is comfort. All is well.

Ciel thought that this is just the way of things. Some people keep to themselves, with their leather-bound diaries, withering eventually into yellowed pages. The ochre-stained papers are not just mere fragments of a person who wrote it. Their soul poured and engraved into it, but it is forever kept in the shadows of their secrecy and fear. Fear that the lives they lived would just become a joke for some. Others bask in the spotlight, and their lives immortalized through books and words for all to read. Of course, these ones don’t really reflect their soul; most of the time these biographies are written solely based on what they want to project to the world. Ciel thought how sad it is that people are willing to lie so that people can like them, but what’s the difference between those who keep everything in secret and those who live with their facade? They both hide themselves, and some are better than the others.

It is no surprise then, that Ciel is an expert at hiding things. Hiding the fact that he likes this boy at school, hiding the fact that he is scared of oblivion, and hiding what he feels. So on the morning of his 17th birthday, the shock he felt wasn’t really apparent on his face as he saw his family — despite the fact that they were turning into words. Not like tattoos but literal words. Like actual letters turning three-dimensional and moving around. The transformation starts with their hands, and slowly creeps up to their arms, and eventually the whole body.

Their bodies were words.

He didn’t want to scare everybody and make himself look crazy especially on such an occasion, so he kept that to himself. After blowing his birthday candles, he hastily ran to his room. Ciel tried to make sense of what’s happening, but this isn’t normal. The people in his life are turning into actual words, and for a 17-year old that’s something you can’t easily comprehend. Well, seeing a person turn into letters isn’t really an easy thing to make sense of for anyone. He looked out at the window and wondered if his family is the only one affected by this sudden change. Alas, that wasn’t the case. The neighbor next door was also made up of words: the letters in his alphabet body jumping up and down as he walks his dog. At this point, Ciel is stunned at the sight. How come the dog is still normal? Is this all a dream? Birthday excitement, perhaps. He thought if he sleeps it off everything will come back to normal.

The following day was not much better. The words are now even more vivid compared to yesterday, and each person in the household had their own distinct fonts. The father, formal as always, in Times New Roman, while the mother, rather the strict woman, had Helvetica. Busy, time, work, job were some words that comprised his father’s new body. Ciel couldn’t really make out the words in his mother. There were simply too many. Did one say freedom? He thought it was kinda ironic since their mother had always been the one to keep them locked up inside the house. Finally, his sister in splendid Palace Script. She is, after all, the perfect child in the family. A volleyball athlete, the class valedictorian, and president of the student government is what she is. Ciel really never felt anything malicious towards his sister; their relationship was defined by their indifference towards each other. Yet no matter how perfect she may be, she harbors her own secrets, too.

Insecurity. Unworthy. Imperfect. That’s what Ciel saw in his sister’s new body.

On the other hand, their youngest sister might be the outcast in the family, her new body outfitted with illegible letters. The letters are hard to be read, but they harbor anger and angst. Ciel thought the letters would lash at any moment. She was the rebellious one among the three, and their parents always compared her to her older sister. As such, the two often get heated, and their anger further fueled by their parents. Ciel couldn’t stop looking at his younger sister, trying his best to make out even a single word. He only snapped back to reality when his younger sister loudly asked, “What are you staring at?”

Ciel hypothesized that these word-people hybrids are manifestations of their thoughts and emotions. It only makes sense for him that’s what they are. “They can’t be anything else,” he muttered to himself. His mother, oathbound by the words of the church to their household, his sisters in an eternal samsara of struggling against the world that desperately wants them to be something else, and their father driven with the illusions of currency. He understood it all. No matter how many people saw Ciel as an unfeeling automaton, he always understood the world and its machinations. Through words, of course. “I was not born yesterday,” whispered Ciel as he covered himself with his blanket. In the morning, he planned to finally look at the mirror. He wondered what he would see when he believed he already knows everything there is to know about the inner workings of his soul.

There comes a time when what you perceive as the established reality suddenly breaks. Ciel experienced it once — when his grandparents who were the only comfort in his childhood died. The incident left him alone again in the world, and at such a young age but the words saved him. He withdrew himself to the world of writing and in turn, the words only wanted a simple thing: for Ciel to keep to himself and the journals. Today, such an event happened again, and this time with no one to catch him. Ciel looked at the mirror, and it’s still himself. No body made of words in sight. He closed his eyes and breathed.

“I’m not empty, am I?”

He looked at his reflection again. Nothing changed. His eyes still intact, a beautiful dark brown that appears black. He stared at them in the silence.

The realization didn’t seem to faze Ciel but instead unlocked something in him. The words he kept for so long started overflowing. The wall made of letters he had built around himself had fallen, cascading unto him and drenching him with feelings of a time long past.

Anger. Angry at his family for not letting him experience the world through anything else but words. No, not anger. He knows it himself it’s his fault that the world isn’t picture-perfect as he thought it would be.

Fear. Fear that he’s really a hollow boy, and that all the words he had ever written were lies to make up for his emptiness. He wouldn’t be much different from the celebrities and the liars he so openly abhors.

Misery. Misery brought upon by the fact that the only people who he found comfort in were already dead, and that he would never experience the world in the same way others do. No one else can understand that sorrow.

“No, not any of that,” mumbled Ciel. He doesn’t know anymore. Gone was the boy together with the reality he established for himself. The sudden torrent of emotions left him speechless, but his heavy heart was a ticking time bomb, and tomorrow it will explode in a violent outburst of spoken words. Even the shackles of his notebook weren’t enough to keep them contained.

The morning breakfast was nothing out of the ordinary. Ciel sat down at the farthest corner of the table as always. His sisters flanking his right side, and his dad seated in their front. The newspaper he had been reading is sprawled across the breakfast table, and their mother frantically trying to set the food. Their father wasn’t exactly a patient man. It’s a beautiful day, with the sun greeting the room through the kitchen window. Unfortunately, the warmth of the morning wouldn’t last for long.

Ciel stands up. “You, you-,” he stammers as tears flow slowly from his eyes. He doesn’t know what to say, but Ciel blames everyone on the people on his for what’s happening. His mom looks at him, and with her alphabet mouth asks, “What’s wrong, honey?”

Ciel looks at her with a mix of anger and frustration. “Shut up! You have no right to ask me what’s the problem when you don’t even get to fix your own. How come all those years you let dad treat you like that? Like you’re some slave in this goddamned household? And you’re surviving because you keep on projecting what you want to have to us children but someday that’s not gonna work.” His tears have now dried, and his now bloodshot eyes spoke of the anger that he’s feeling inside.

“Calm down, Ciel.” His elder sister interjects before he can say another word. It seems that Ciel didn’t hear her until he spoke again. He couldn’t bear to stand here anymore. “No, you shut up! You’re little miss perfect, and everyone likes you, so how will you ever know what I feel?” With this, his sister retreats back to her seat. She lowers her head in defeat, and tears stream down from the letter Js in her face. Ciel didn’t stop there. “You’ll never know what it’s like because you always get what you want! Our parents love you the most because you give them everything that they want, but is that what you want?” He breaks down again in sobs, and this time the tears won’t stop. His dad is speechless in the background; what else can he do?

Ciel points at him and tries to shout again, but nothing barely comes out of his mouth anymore. His cries have dampened his outburst. “And now you. Why are you so obsessed with your job? Are we really nothing to you? Do I mean nothing to you?”

Ciel whimpers as he tries to make sense of what’s happening. This isn’t what he meant to do. No, this isn’t it, but the words don’t lie. For the first time, he felt that the words had failed him. He walks out of the house as he has no words left to say. He doesn’t know where to go, but his legs wouldn’t stop. The morning light illuminates him, and his tears glisten in the sunlight.

Ciel thought about everything. How he’d always been empty and how everything is a lie which he blames on his family. Now that he’d let this out, what’s left of him? He’s really empty this time around.

He looked up at the sky. The sun is still shining as it was before he broke down in front of his family. The familiar blue sky is still glimmering as it does daily. The world hasn’t stopped spinning, and the words will keep pouring again someday. He wondered if he can continue on like them, too, despite the fact that he feels he has no more drive left.

In the days to come, Ciel believed he would have the courage to accept the fact that he’s just an empty shell. No thoughts, no emotions, nothing. We can’t always get what we want, and Ciel knows that. No matter how much he wants to be something, he knows the universe won’t give it to you simply because you want it.

Ciel noticed it all, but what he didn’t notice was the car beside him as he stumbled through his walk. He catches a glimpse of his reflection in the car’s side mirror, and something odd appears to be happening on his forehead. It’s contorting in barely legible letters, but Ciel knows that it’s a word. Of course he’d know: it’s his handwriting.


Something swelled up inside him. A mote of joy sparks inside his chest, his face slowly turning into a smile. He sobs again and this time, it’s a cry signaling his happiness.

He’s not a hollow boy, after all.

In the world of words, there is comfort. All is well.



Zeril Manaois

not everyone loved freely like me. | mapagpatawad pa ang Diyos kaysa sa'kin.