Allow me, dear readers, to present you with the following flight of literary fancy, inspired by this prompt from the users of r/writingprompts, over at Reddit: In a world where linguistic delinquency is on the rise, a Grammar Nazi is called to the scene of one of the most heinous crimes of his/her career.

Chief Grammar Inspector Johann “Jack” Schmitt ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and climbed the stairs of the Forman University Library, his brown overcoat flapping in the cool night breeze. He pulled open the heavy oaken door and strode into the library. The normally quiet entryway was abuzz with activity- crime scene analysts pulling out evidence bags and setting up blacklights, tech guys tapping away on laptops, a couple of officers from the Syntax Squad busily consulting their copies of “Essentials of English Grammar” and “Elements of Style.”

The hum of voices abated a bit when Schmitt walked into the room. Six foot five, burly and mustachioed, Schmitt had a commanding presence, in addition to which he was something of a legend in the Grammar Police. A member of the force for nearly forty years, Schmitt had first come to prominence in ’75, after successfully mediating a particularly tense subject-verb standoff. His subsequent rise through the ranks had been nothing short of meteoric. It was Schmitt who held the record for corralling the most run-on sentences; it was Schmitt who, as head of the Punctuation Patrol, had led the highly effective crackdown on exclamation point abuse; it was Schmitt who, after months of undercover work, had at last brought down the infamous Txtspk Gang; and it was Schmitt who had finally tracked down and brought to justice “The Splitter,” a notorious and elusive serial criminal who had spent thirteen months roaming the Eastern Seaboard, leaving a trail of bleeding infinitives in his wake. By now, even the most fresh-faced rookie on the force knew- if Schmitt was on the case, something big was going on. Schmitt wasn’t called in for some routine apostrophe slip or piddling little comma splice. Schmitt was serious.

Ignoring the looks and whispers that followed him, Schmitt strode briskly through the hall to the circulation desk, where Detective Spreckels was waiting for him. Spreckels was head of the Tense Team, and the one who had called him in. “Evening, Herman,” Schmitt said by way of greeting.

“Evening, Jack. Or ‘Morning,’ I suppose I should say. Sorry to get you out of bed.”

Schmitt waved his hand dismissively. “Never mind that. What are we dealing with here?”

“This way,” said Spreckels, gesturing towards a large wooden door. “The scene is up on the fourth level of stacks. The elevator’s bust, so we’ll have to walk it. I’ll fill you in on the way up.”

The two men stepped through the door in the dusty quiet of the library stacks. Narrow shelves towered over them, and a musty odor filled the air. A faded map of the college campus hung on the wall opposite, while to the right, a rickety looking staircase led the way upwards. Spreckels leading, the two men began the ascent.

“Call came in about thirty minutes ago,” Spreckels began. “Undergrad- a senior- stayed late at the library to get some extra work done on his thesis. About one o’clock, he heard a noise coming from the other side of the stacks- said it was a kind of tearing and then a couple of thuds. Went to check it out, got one look at the scene, and ran to call us.”

“Who was first on the scene?” Schmitt asked. The detectives passed the second level of stacks and continued up.

“Hoffmann and Fischer. They were about a block away when the call came in, and called for backup pretty quickly when they saw the scene. I showed up with the guys from Tense about ten minutes later, took a look, and said we should call you.”

They had reached the landing that led to the fourth level. Spreckels paused, his hand on the knob of the door that led into the stacks. “Listen Jack,” he said, “there’s really no way to prepare you for this. I know you’ve seen a lot over the years, but this…this is worse than anything any of us has ever seen. Becker- you know what a tough nut he his- he got one look and just about lost his lunch. And the poor kid who found it, well, he’s at the hospital right now, in complete shock. This thing is brutal, completely beyond anything we’ve seen before. That’s why I knew we needed you on this right from the start.”

Schmitt nodded, his face grim. “I understand. Just let me see it.”

Spreckels took a deep breath and led the way through the door. “That way,” he said, pointing to the left. “Just past the last row of shelves. Forgive me if I don’t come with you. I…I don’t think I can stand to see it again just now.”

Schmitt nodded and walked towards the rear of the stack, where he let out an audible gasp. Spreckels was right- the scene before him was worse than anything he could have imagined. The surrounding shelves had been emptied, the books pulled off and tossed carelessly into a heap on the floor. Atop the pile of bent covers and torn pages sat a copy of the OED, a Number 2 pencil shoved through the front, like a stake through a vampire’s heart. Even worse, however, was the graffiti. It covered the walls, every inch of them, from ceiling to floor, the red paint splashed about in a crude mockery of an English teacher’s corrective pen. As he read it, Schmitt felt the bile rise in his throat:

Last nite! I dr3amd, I wEnt: 2 manderly agn

It’s a? tRUth Universaly aknolejed that a single; man –IN possechun. of a lrg 4-ton “must” b n (wont) of a w’ife,!?!

Hapee: famleez, R al a-lick every. unhapee Famlee iz Unhapee n it’s own, way’

2 b or? not…2 b! tht Is The Qwe’stc{h}Un???,?,?,?

aFteR All. 2m0r0w: iz “an”othr!!!!!!!1!! Day:

s!INg—o Mu’se Of Teh (anger), of; akileez?!

On and on it went, row after row of the most disgusting perversions Schmitt had ever seen. Seemingly no one had been spared- Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, Dostoevsky, Milton, Dante…author after author had had their cherished sentences ruthlessly and sadistically gutted on the library wall. “My God,” Schmitt whispered, and put out a hand to steady himself against the door frame. He was certainly no stranger to grammatical carnage. His decades on the force had left him well-acquainted with the atrocities man was capable of inflicting on the English language. But this…never, in all his forty years of hunting down grammar criminals, had Schmitt ever seen such a calculated, cold-blooded attack on everything that he held sacred.

This was no time to show weakness, however. He’d been called in for his experience, his expertise. The other men were shook up enough as it was, without seeing him fall to pieces as well. He had to get a hold of himself. Closing his eyes, Schmitt took three slow, deep breaths to steady himself, then straightened up, turned, and strode briskly back to where Spreckels was waiting.

“Was there anything there?” he asked, his voice low and quivering with barely suppressed emotion. “Anything at all that could tell us who was behind that…that…that bloody butchery back there?”

Spreckel shook his head. “Nothing. It’s the damndest thing. No fingerprints. No fibers. Nothing. The only thing we found was this.” He pulled a sealed evidence bag out of his pocket and handed it to Schmitt. “Forensics wanted to send it right out to the lab, but I wanted you to have a look at it first.”

Schmitt took the baggie and examined it. It contained a single sheet of lined notebook paper, covered with the same red ink smeared on the library walls. A mounting sense of horror overtook Schmitt again as he read the scrawling handwriting:


2 teh Grahmer po’Leece

                Gr33t1ngz?. Dis iz r! furst comyoonnikashun; It will not! b teh (last),. 4 yeers wee hav: laB0red under teh Oppreshun Of You’re grammatehKu’ll rulez? and “suferd” under! the, Standurdized . spe-lling that, haz kwashed; teh awtH-‘entikley Cree8iv v1zshUn off teh! Tr00 R-tists.,!? No “Mor” ( Tihs) mArrks teh/ Furst of r, STRYKE’S? aganst . ur langwage!!! Tee-Ranny…Mor– will folloh UnTil,l Awl Of. You’re (reepressiv )! konstraint’s “hav” ben dizm-anteld ?and, teh NEW; WORD ORDER haz, ben!!1!? instit00ted?!.?!! do not dowt? taht, w33 will b SuksSSsful You hav seen wat WE! R kapabel of. Begin, teh… kowNt. 4: ur daze?( as) Gramer des’pots “r” numb3r3dd.?!1?:;!?

Teh Illiterati

Under the signature there was a carefully drawn sketch of a pyramid, a dictionary impaled upon its point.

Schmitt looked up from the note, his face hard and grim. “Get this to the lab. Now.” He ordered, thrusting the baggie back to Spreckels. “And get forensics back up here. I want them to go over this place again with everything they have, I don’t care if it takes them all night.” He brushed past the other detective and began quickly descending the stairs.

“Sure, Jack, of course, but where are you going?”

“Over to District. I’ve got to get through to Washington as soon as possible- we’re going to need all the help we can get on this.” Schmitt paused and looked back at his companion. “You were right, Herman. This is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. And if we don’t stop this now, well, this is going to be just the beginning.”


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