From Fluid Fables by

Hervé Le Tellier

Translated by Cole Swensen


It's a tradition in the city of Sargassi (Pulgia) to celebrate the Festival of the Lie every year on June 15. Everyone, on that day, lies. You tell your wife that you're cheating on her, your neighbors that they drive you crazy, and your children that you hate them. For many, it's the only time of the year that they get to tell the truth.

In the first version of the novella by Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll was a woman. In the second, it all rests on a cat named Hyde. The third version, by far the blandest, was, alas, the one that the editor accepted.

At the typical Peruvian market of Nahahutu, it's so noisy that no one can hear the cries of the merchants. So this resourceful body decided to imitate the sounds of the animals whose meat they sell, thus the pork-sellers grunt, the chicken hawkers cluck, and the beef vendors moo. Only the fishmongers are having a bit of trouble.

The linguists Marco Bouvard and Ali Pécuchet of the Institute of Paleo-linguistics at Saint-Maur (France) are convinced that they have uncovered a fraud of global proportions in the writing known as "cuneiform." Having studied the clay floor of the ibis cage at the Parc de Vincennes zoo from May 1965 to October 1972, they have proved that the signs found on tablets from Uruk and elsewhere are simply the prints of aquatic birds.

Dorothea Schneider, aged 10, is the only person who has managed, on July 30, 1970, to finish the yellow puzzle constituted of all the cornflakes in a single box, an achievement all the more remarkable because, as is well known, the cornflakes in a given box never come from a single, huge, fractured cornflake.

Researchers at the Winchester Institute for Biology proved in October of 1967 that although the petals of a cauliflower trace out a magnificent fractal, an orange tastes a lot better.

Just as people count using a base of ten because we have ten fingers, the inhabitants of the planet Vekon count on a base of 999 because that's how many waving tentacles they have. For this reason alone, the Vekonians are much better at math than we Earthlings, but they also have 999 commandments to obey.

On Mont Aktos, in southern Greece, there's a constant wind from the north. Ages ago, the inhabitants of the valley sculpted the rocks in such a way that the incoming air vibrates and forms words, phrases, and sometimes even poems. But, sadly, in the ensuing centuries, the language has changed, and to such an extent that no one any longer understands the songs of the mountain, nor the eternal wisdom that it whispers to the people.

According to a study run in the 1960s by the Utah Institute for Animal Ethology, the macaques in the Salt Lake City zoo are not actually exhibitionist masturbators. On the contrary, they are excessively modest, and are merely trying, through a bit of deft handiwork, to hide the top of the penis, then the bottom, then the top, then the bottom . . .

On Planet SK1065, there's an intelligent multi-pedal species that counts their years not from the date of each person's birth, but from the date of their death, which is predicted by the Great Priests. Therefore, it is never the age that counts, but the time that remains. And so in the capital, Kzhypl, you'll see old people giving up their seats for adolescents who may have only a year or two left to live.

Originally published by Editions d'Attente in 2012, Contes Liquides won the 2013 Grand Prix de l'Humour Noir.
Author of over twenty books, Hervé Le Tellier is a French writer, linguist, and prominent member of the Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or "the workshop of potential literature"). From 2002 to 2015, he contributed a daily commentary to the website of the newspaper Le Monde, and he is one of the founders of the "Association of the Friends of Jean-Baptiste Botul," an organization dedicated to promoting this sadly neglected philosopher and his school of "Botulism."
Cole Swensen (www.coleswensen.com) is the author of fifteen books of poetry and the translator some twenty volumes of French contemporary poetry, prose, and art criticism. The co-editor of the Norton 2009 anthology American Hybrid, she is the founding editor of La Presse, a nano-press dedicated to contemporary French writing.