This little flash piece was a lot of fun to write. As I recall, I wrote it on a school bus as I accompanied one of my children on a field trip to Northern Arizona. (Another member of my writers group at the time, Melanie Lewis, was also on this trip.)
The story is intended to make fun of the beginning science fiction writer mistake of giving aliens unpronounceable names. Originally appearing in the April, 2007 issue of Alien Skin magazine, Kfzhrbfl weighs in at a mere 700 words. It was my 7th published story and is still one of my favorite flash stories.
Aliens have different rules, space aliens, I mean. When a visitor from another country moves here, they usually modify their names to try to fit in. I’ve met many foreigners. Some adopted a name that sounds similar to their native name. Some go with initials. Others just use a part of their name. On the day I met the alien, I threw out all the old rules.
I met him on the day I registered at the university. He stood at the back of the line when I arrived. A head taller than me, the pale green of his skin played off his tight-fitting crimson tunic, making him look all Christmasy. A long and slender tail came off his backside, but I couldn’t see it because he had it covered in a sleeve extending from his pants.
The line moved quickly until the alien reached the window. Things slowed then.
“And you, sir,” the registrar said, “what is your name?”
He didn’t answer at first, as if hesitant. The registrar repeated his question. “Name?”
The alien sighed, then said, “Kfzhrbfl.”
The registrar said nothing, his mouth opened a little, but that’s as far as it went.
“Kfzhrbfl,” Kfzhrbfl repeated.
The registrar rolled his eyes. “Isn’t that just typical?”
The alien seemed taken aback. “What do you mean?” Kfzhrbfl asked.
“It’s always the same with you aliens. You always have unpronounceable names without vowels.”
“It’s what distinguishes us as aliens,” Kfzhrbfl said. “How else would anyone reading about us know that we’re aliens?”
“I see,” the registrar said. “What was that name? Kuffizzerbuffel? How is that spelled?”
“Kfzhrbfl,” Kfzhrbfl said. “It’s spelled exactly like it sounds.”
The registrar cleared his throat. “Spelled as it sounds. Well, humor me.”
Kfzhrbfl spelled his name for the registrar, who winced with every letter. After he put down the last letter, the registrar looked up and said, “There really ought to be a rule about unpronounceable names for aliens. Mr. Kfzhrbfl, your name calls attention to itself, and that is terribly distracting.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Kfzhrbfl said. “It’s the name I adopted when I arrived on Earth.”
That got me curious, so I had to ask. “That isn’t your real name?”
Kfzhrbfl shook his head. “My original name was Mel.”
Mel?” I asked.
He nodded. “Mel. My parent’s named me after my uncle.”
Mel, such an easy name to remember, and to pronounce. And to spell. Why in the world would he change his name to something as terrible as Kfzhrbfl? “Where did you get the name Kfzhrbfl?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said. “I used to read slush for an online magazine called Alien Waterbuffalo.” He shrugged an awkward, anatomically incorrect shrug, then continued. “Most of the stories I read featured aliens with names like Kfzhrbfl.”
A slush reader who took his name from the slush pile? I thought it strange, but then, I didn’t know much about aliens. Still, an online ‘zine? “Did you ever accept a story with an alien with a name like Kfzhrbfl?”
“Well,” he said, “not really.”
“Why did you pick a name from the slush pile?” It had me wondering — whatever happened to names like Spock or Enoch? Kfzhrbfl? He should have kept Mel.
The registrar harumphed. “Are you through with your side discussion? The line isn’t getting any shorter.”
I looked over my shoulder at the growing line filled with faces wearing angry expressions, all glaring at us.
“It’s him,” Kfzhrbfl said, pointing over his shoulder at me.
How embarrassing. “Sorry,” I said, feeling quite small.
“Now,” the registrar said, “will you need any special accommodations to accommodate your anatomy?”
Kfzhrbfl wagged his tail, which moved only at the base, as if it were a golf club. “Nah,” he said. “The tail’s prosthetic.”
The registrar stamped Kfzhrbfl’s papers and handed them to the alien.
Kfzhrbfl thanked the man and walked away, making it my turn. I stepped up to the counter.
“Okay, trouble-maker,” the registrar said, “what’s your name?”
The registrar looked me up and down, then rolled his eyes. Do you know what he said? He said, “Isn’t that just typical?”
I furled my eyebrows and looked with suspicion at the registrar. “What?”
He dropped his pen and said, “Why do all the white-bread kids like you have names like Jim?”