Talking shop

I stopped at the bookstore this evening for a beverage. Ella was working and there were no customers around, so I asked her to tell me more about what she’s studying at the university. She peered at me a little, as if I’d asked her to deliver a package and refused to tell her what was in it. Then she asked me if I had grown up in Detling, and I told her I had.

There was another pause and then she explained that she was studying similarities between certain kinds of New England and Midwestern folklore. I asked if she meant stories about how the Big Dipper got into the sky or why rabbits have long ears, but she said no: darker. I asked if she meant things like the Jersey Devil but she said no: stranger.

What she’s interested in are stories about weird, ancient, powerful alien beings that live in hidden places of the earth, and a set of deities with names like Nyarlathotep, Yog Sothoth, and Shub Niggurath, the goat with a thousand young. Ella asked me if any of that sounded familiar. The closest thing I could come up with was a monster my friends and I made up that was a cross between a wolf and a python, which we called a hose-dog.

But there was something familiar about those names Ella said. Not because I recognized them, because they reminded me of…something. I don’t know. It was like trying to remember how you learned that breathing is necessary.

“Nyarlathotep” I repeated. “Yes,” she responded.

“Yog Sothoth,” I said. “Yes,” she said. She seemed to be getting excited.

“And…a goat.”

That killed the mood. “It’s not an actual goat,” she said, using a tone I might use if someone asked me whether Christians pray to the Easter Bunny. “So, what, the goat’s a metaphor for something?” I said.

Ella got kind of irritated about that so I felt a little guilty, though I wasn’t unhappy to see her purse her lips in a cute kind of frown. I think I was able to placate her and convince her that I wasn’t making fun of her studies, so we should be OK the next time I stop by the store. (Seriously, though – Nyarlathotep? Is that, like, the cat mummy or something?)

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