Gremlingue: A Favorite Language

Gremlins have the most beautiful language I have ever studied. Mind you, I didn’t initially feel that way. I first thought it was rude and limited. I am no expert in language, but I have studied a few and have taken to several. Latin is musical in its inefficiency and variety of declinations. German’s loveliness, at least to me, comes from that very same thing that Latin lacks. There is beauty in the efficacy with which German fills the vocabulary vacuums that culture and experience create. For some beautiful vocabulary search “German words that English needs,” (You’d be better off learning German from someone that has studied it better than me. The nuances often escape me. For example, I’ve never understood why HeissluftgeblÄse would be an insult). Where was I? Oh yes, the beauty of Gremlingue.

One hot day in August, it must have been two years ago now, I was at the air show with my Autistic son (airplanes and vehicles of any kind are his obsession). We met a gremlin when we were picking out a place to put our folding chairs on the library lawn. We had just set down our chairs, put on our headphones, and opened a bottle of water when a little creature, that looked something like a man and kind of like a cat, came over and waved a greeting.

I’ll admit, his strangeness startled me and I didn’t respond immediately. My son, at least, remembered his manners and without a moment’s hesitation, smiled and waved back like they were old friends. The gremlin widened his eyes, and his cheeks rose around them in a sparkly little way that looked like a smile. I could make out no mouth though, gremlins are quite thoroughly covered in fur. He gestured to a patch of grass beside us and raised his eyebrows while holding up a greasy shop rag. I cringe to think of the rude look of disgust that must have been on my face at that moment. I can’t say what my expression was, but the fear and contempt were certainly inside me.  My son nodded and extended his hand toward the same spot of grass. The gremlin smiled at my son with his eyes again. Then he spread out the shop rag and sat closer to us than I wanted. 

The first airplane engine roared to life. The gremlin placed his hands over his ears, but it didn’t seem to work because he soon switched to putting his fingers in his ears knuckle deep. I wondered why he would do something so illogical as visit a noisy air show when it so obviously bothered him.

He had large pointed ears, and he trembled when the F-16 fighters broke the sound barrier with a SWOOSH and a BOOM! My son looked up at me with a worried look. The concern for his new friend, crystal clear in his expression. The gremlin had his eyes squeezed shut and his fur stood on end.
I took off my headphones as I scooted his direction. I slid the headphones around his head and pressed them in place after he removed his hands. His eyes opened. He looked at me with huge green eyes. He inhaled a little breath, then let out a long one, all of his fur relaxing as he did. That was the first Gremlingue phrase I understood.

After that exchange, he stretched out his legs in front of him. His knobby grease-covered fingers wrapped onto his toes and he leaned back slightly to look at the sky. We all sat together enjoying the dance of aviation in the cobalt sky above us. But I’ll admit it was often more interesting to glance down and catch the gremlin and my son engaged in a strange conversation of closed eyes, sideways glances, tilted chins, winking, and cheek lifting. It first left me quite befuddled at its meaning, but I caught on. The little guy liked engines and seemed to know more about them than anyone I had ever heard met.

I caught myself eavesdropping instead of watching the show. They talked about compressors, rotors and fan disks all without removing the headphones or opening their mouths. In fact, it wasn’t until they both pointed at the shiny emerald puddle-jumper, “The Expectation,” that I realized the plane was in trouble.
Black smoke billowed from the engine grate. It was slowly losing altitude, but not slow enough to land safely. All around us, people jumped up and shouted out concerns of fear for the pilot and for where the plane would crash. Who would get hurt?

I scooped my son into my arms and to my surprise, I reached for the gremlin as well. His relaxed posture was gone. He was on his knees on the shop rag with the front bit of it folded up like a sled handle. Before I could grab onto his arm, smoke sputtered from beneath the rag and lifted him into the air. “No!” I shouted at him. He weaved through the crowd of people and sped on his rag toward the troubled emerald plane. People fled all around us, but my son and I stood at the chain-link fence and watched our new friend land on the fuselage.

He struggled toward the front of the plane and slid down the windshield. The plane was close enough now I could see the pilot’s panic at the sight of the gremlin. I wanted to tell him not to be afraid of my friend, that the gremlin was there to help, but they glided by too fast to hear me. He twisted the steering controls, losing precious altitude and stability and sending the gremlin sliding past the engine vent toward the prop.

The gremlin moved faster than I could have imagined. He gripped the slick hot metal of the engine compartment and skidded to a stop. Then he corrected his path and slipped inside the vent. Then, I saw him in flashes, a hand adjusting a bolt here or his foot kicking loose a panel there. Until suddenly the smoke shrank into a small whip of white fumes. The pilot seemed to remember his training, and with a functional engine he righted the plane and decreased his speed before the tires touched down. The landing was still rough as the plane ended up in dirt rather than on the tarmac. It bounced, rocked across the uneven dirt, then shuttered and finally stopped. Ambulances and emergency vehicles swarmed the landing site. Police shooed us away, but not before we saw our friend being handcuffed to a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.

My son and I didn’t see our friend again that day.

They didn’t understand his language. They thought he had caused the accident. They didn’t realize all the skills and knowledge he used to save the aircraft and the pilot. I read the news article the next day; MONSTER ACCUSED OF ENGINE SABOTAGE. I wrote letters; I made phone calls, but nobody seemed to listen to what I saw that day.

My son and I would visit our spot on the grass every time we went to the library. Sometimes we’d sit and watch the airplanes take off, hoping to see him appear on the grass beside us. Finally, a whole year had gone by and it was time for the airshow again. I could not curb my son’s enthusiasm, but my heart was heavy in a way that words failed to express. It was almost mechanical for me to watch my hands pack an extra pair of headphones.

We arrived just like before, placed our folding chairs, opened our water bottles. My son looked at the hangar expectantly, not concerned with searching the crowd around us like I had been. Had he forgotten our friend? I pulled him into my arms in case he remembered it all.

The show began, and it lifted my spirits somewhat, but I could not stop wondering about my little friend with the beautiful language. Plane after plane rolled out onto the airfield. But the one that caught my eye was the bright green puddle jumper that pulled out next.

I jumped up with my son and ran to the fence for a better view, but I didn’t need to. Just underneath the bright red script that read “The Expectation” was a cleverly designed logo of the Gremlin’s face, his eyes the same bold emerald as the body of the craft. He’d done it. He’d made them understand who he was, what he could do.

My son latched his hands onto the fence with a smile on his face like I had never seen. There in the cockpit, just above the window’s edge, I could see a pair of large ears and a cool-looking pilot’s headset. The Gremlin scanned the crowd, spotted us, and waved. We watched as “The Expectation,” climbed into the air.

You should come with us sometime to the air show. I’ll point out someone incredible, but please don’t take offence. He might not say hello. He might just smile and wave at you instead. But now you know something about Gremlingue, you might pick it up a little faster than I did when I first had the chance.

If you want to keep reading you can check out some of my other short stories in this series:


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