In The Flame Alphabet, children kill their parents with language

Erin Cosgrove created this dark, weird trailer for Ben Marcus' new novel, The Flame Alphabet. Billed as "an intellectual horror story," it's the tale of a world-ending disease that spreads through language. Only children are immune.


Here's a synopsis:

A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children's speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. At night, suburban side streets become routes of shameful escape for fathers trying to get outside the radius of affliction.

With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents' sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn't so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.

Illustration for article titled In emThe Flame Alphabet/em, children kill their parents with language

The Flame Alphabet invites the question: What is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love?

Seriously creepy.

You can pre-order a copy of The Flame Alphabet here. It comes out January 17.


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Best story about death by language is Lullaby from Chuck Palahniuk. Not my favorite book by a long shot but it nails the scary idea of language as a weapon, a disease. Guy lives alone and miserable after his child and wife die suddenly. It never gets explained in postmortem (coroners offer sudden infant death syndrome for the child but the wife is a mystery; no gas leak, etc.) He obsesses over it and eventually gloms onto this idea that a book of lullabies he was reading aloud to them the last night they were alive contained an obscure culling song that, like a poison blowdart in inexpert hands a hundred years later, was still just potent enough to finish them off. The story gets weird and witchcrafty when he learns anyone can memorize and recite the specific lullaby while thinking of a specific person and it'll knock 'em dead. He goes around destroying copies of the book in circulation, wondering what the power of this could mean in the digital age. If someone got on the radio and just happened to read the lullaby. If it played as a hidden track in an online video or at a baseball game or in a TV commercial, if it was used as a ringtone. What would society be like if people were no longer allowed to speak to each other and sounds themselves were banned if they could carry or mask the weapon of culling speech? And so on. Then the story flies off the handle into wacky horror, but there's a gorgeous stretch of it that's just genius.