Strangecraft, Part III—The Twisty Innards of Leviathan—Mikael Thompson SpecGram Vol CLXX, No ν Contents Strangecraft, Part V—The Highest Time of Living—Mikael Thompson


by Mikael Thompson

- IV -
You Old Indian Summer

That summer was fairly uneventful at first. As all three of us had found the foibles of the other two more entertaining than painful on balance, we signed up to remain roommates for the next full year. We quickly settled into a less pressured routine of work for pay and study for kicks. Trevor spent long hours in the lab working on a new class of far-from-equilibrium chemical reaction cycles, while Finley got a job cataloguing and counting plants in the woods northeast of campus. I of course spent a full forty hours a week in the library sifting through the gleanings of generations of papyromaniacs. As there was no library science department (which had been banned from campus along with the old library staff for unseemly interference in the faculty senate, meaning in practice that they bet and lost), there were few students at all interested in cataloguing the piles, and so advancement came swiftly to me.

There were in fact four of us against the world, or so we liked to say. While it was a small world, it was an exceedingly untidy one, and not only had we no idea why most of the material had been saved, it was arranged oddly, with hints of a system just beyond the reach of intuition and analysis; most likely they had been dumped from the shelves and organized randomly to taunt us, then the vacated shelves made to disappear. Moreover, while the faculty senate expressed a vague interest in the fruits of our labors and on occasion raised then dropped questions of greater funding to restore the library to full academic service, in practice the many departments had been thrown on their own devices for so long that the lack of a general library did not press strongly on anyone’s calluses so long as progress was made in restoring order to the stacks. Which, alas, had to remain closed for the foreseeable future because the old library staff had absconded with all the old catalogues, ripped off all the bar codes, and shuffled the books around the shelves, and while the law promised relief, the rascals had disappeared without a trace; several shady characters were sent in succession to lurk around last known addresses and forwarding addresses to find someone to be served the summons, preferably with unnecessary but pleasing roughness, but the summoners that were not later declared legally missing or dead invariably came back rather paler and quieter than when they set out and returned their retainers less expenses.

Thus, for budgetary reasons, not to mention a goodly dollop of politics, of the twelve students the library managed to hire to bring some clarity to its collections, only four of us could be spared to go through the unbound holdings. Since we scrappers (so we were called in contradistinction to the bookers) had to do a good job from the beginning but weren’t quite sure how to go about doing a good job, this was a puzzlement. Moreover, the unbound holdings were extensive and crowded: Every available cabinet and shelf in a rabbit warren of close and musty rooms and carrels was packed with a mixed assortment of crap and pearls, not to mention the piles shoulder to crown high in what once had been a common room, and quite often which was crap and which pearls was thoroughly unclear. For financial reasons, two of us could only work 10 hours a week, the third 20, and the fourth a full 40, and it was only my archeological experience that garnered me the full-time supervisor position. Out of reflex, I set up a system of grids and labels under which every scrap of paper was catalogued painstakingly, and slowly we worked our way through one carrel to make sure the system would work. At the end of a week and a half of frayed tempers and vicious paper cuts, we then discovered the problem of working memory that I had been afraid of: Given the many varied categories into which we had to sift the scraps, there was no more work space to be had without violating our own system at the outset. Order required space, but the only space sufficient for our work was one cleared carrel that now served to house miscellaneous receipts.

At this first challenge to my leadership, I rallied the troops and we marched up to the stacks to acquire a few carts by main force. Unfortunately, there were eight of them and four of us, so we returned bruised and surly to our rabbit warren and decided that since main force was an utter failure, stealth was called for. We waited a couple of hours and then snuck out singly each to a different floor, and discovered that our opponents had excellent hearing. Stealth having come a cropper, I let the other three go to the campus clinic for aspirin and ice packs while I walked around our warren pondering what might be done. My reasoning went thus: Space was at a premium, but regardless of one’s metaphysical commitments, in any practical sense space was immovable and inflexible. Resting in this space were things that needed Maxwell’s demons, as we also had called ourselves until the bad dreams started, to bring them into an order meeting our needs. The way to bring order to them was to move them in space. The major constraint was the inability to move them to other space than we had on hand, so the first thing to do would be to reconsider just what our needs were. I was quite pleased with such a wordy restatement of simple truths and considered expanding it into a paper, for while no more content was needed, the possibilities for ever-spiraling cacozelia were endlessly seductive. However, as I had to gain concrete results in the physical world, I pushed such thoughts out of my head and focused again on the task at hand.

Perhaps we could scan and dump some of them. Was there any need to hang on to publishers’ receipts from 27 years before? Unfortunately, yes, because the university was planning some utterly corrupt form of tax legerdemain passing by the name of charitable write-offs to hang on to more of the money that there never was enough of, and we had been told that no receipts could be disposed of without the approval of the legal department. I called them and was put on hold because of understaffing. After an hour, someone finally answered my call and said that not only did we have to hang onto all receipts, we were forbidden upon pain of pain from giving the legal department the receipts until they had been fully catalogued and scanned and, in short, their own clerical work done for them. I asked if they wanted to give us a dual appointment from their budget, and the other phone hung up on me amid gales of laughter.

I then called my boss, Cornelius Lee, to ask him if the library could see fit to buy us some new carts, and he said, “Hugh, I’ve already received complaints from the bookers about your little excursions today. Well, just a lot of boasting, actually. I’m a laissez-faire kind of guy, so I’ll just say that your question was decided on the field of battle.”

“Can I pay for them myself and get reimbursed for them?”

“Union rules prohibit that.”

What union?”

“The library cartwright union.”

“There’s such a thing?”

“Yes, and they’re very powerful. They have special contracts with all libraries that serve to jack up the prices of carts and servicing thereof. They’d lose money if you did that, and then they’d come after me, Hugh.”

“Well, hell, can I just burn the place down?”

“Only if you promise to go down in the flames, because otherwise you’d answer to me.”

“I was joking.”

“I wasn’t.”

I thought hurriedly. “If I fire the other three and hire some of the football team and kick the bookers’ pasty white butts, can I have the carts then?”

“The athletic department forbids athletes from approaching within 25 yards of the library, Hugh.”

“Oh, hell, that’s right. Umm, what’s the university policy again on concealed carry?”

“Don’t even think of it, Hugh.”

I hung up in deep dissatisfaction and concluded that there was no way to relax the constraints on space or the chosen goals of our work. I then looked around my tiny windowless cubbyhole of an office and realized we had to make ourselves even less comfortable. I went to the sorted piles of catalogued materials, then walked again around the rabbit warren, mentally calculating approximate volumes of foolscap, and moved the more pressing materials in the sorted piles into the small break room that served as an office for the other three and the least important bulky matters, the poor orphaned manuscripts no one but me seemed to care about, into my office. I spent the rest of my shift finding the manuscripts in the piles set for cataloguing the week following and noting their location and similar information onto a slip for each. As I did so, I found there to be quite a mix, ranging from the remains of dead professors to the reminiscences of local scoundrels and scalawags; needless to say, the latter looked far more entertaining.

The next day was a Friday, the day I was the only scrapper at work, and I spent the hours before lunch going through the manuscripts I had stacked in my office, tallying them by Library of Congress categories in order to get some idea of the task ahead of me. After lunch I began cataloguing what I had, placing each manuscript in a separate pile and a few that looked peculiarly interesting in my desk drawers. At the end of the day, I pulled my door mostly to and looked more carefully through the manuscripts in my drawers and updated the slips with various obscure notations, then made other notations in a small notebook.

After an hour I locked my desk and my door and went back to our suite. The routine for the rest of the summer was set: I went in at 8:30 every morning to set out the tasks of the day; on Tuesdays and Thursdays April, Birwan, and Clarice would work with me for four hours on the more pressing tasks of cataloguing all the materials, while on Mondays and Wednesdays Clarice and I would divide up the less pressing or time-consuming tasks of cataloguing, or would plan out the next group of piles to go through. The rest of the time I spent cataloguing, scanning, and reading manuscripts until 5:30 or a little later.

In the evenings I would do my daily stint of common work in the dining room (I was as before put to work scrubbing pots, which with reduced summer traffic took all of ten minutes), then read linguistics for a couple of hours as the sunlight faded, after which Trevor and I preferred to save whale oil by prowling the woods, river bank, or less uninteresting parts of the outskirts of Pursleyville, wine bottle in hand, occasionally accompanied by Finley (who usually swore off with “I spent all week in the forest” or “I’ve seen it already”) or more often someone more female that Trevor invited along for his brand of flattering, intense conversation. Certainly Trevor was the ablest chatter-up of women I had ever met; in addition to being a perfect gentleman in his manners, he was ever-attentive and possessed an encyclopedic memory for everything he learned about each woman, and soon any woman accompanying us would be near to swooning into his arms. As to whether he kept his hands off any of them in my absence I did not know, for I never asked and he never volunteered a word. At the same time, he never left me feeling an outsider; he would ask my opinion on interesting things each woman said and provoke us to conversation as he sat back, seemingly to take a breather or organize his thoughts. We would then accompany Trevor’s companion home and return to the suite by about eleven and retire; weekends we would stay up later, often chatting with Smith and Jones until near two.

While the end of communal dreaming was a relief of sorts, it was replaced for a week and a half with bad dreams about my workan occurrence that I later learned was common with my suitematesnightmares tailor-suited to our new jobs, as if the Institute were testing us to make sure we truly had the grit to continue in our jobs. In my case it was a recurring dream of standing in the foyer just inside the library lobby area at closing. As the lights were turned off, small green panels on the columns began to glow faintly near the floor like iridescent safety lights. I realized I had forgotten somethingjust what refused steadfastly to come to mindand I walked back to Unbound Holdings to find what had gone missing. When the door from the foyer to the short hallway closed, I was in the dark; I stumbled forward to the little space between the small workroom and my office and pushed open the door in front of me leading to the old common room. On my left and right the halls to the cubbyhole carrels were pitch black and menacing, so I quickly stepped through. The common room was dimly lit near the floor with the same sickly green safety lights, and as I looked around I heard an occasional swish ahead of me to my left. I walked that way and soon saw a small cat door through which it seemed the entire population of campus cats was entering; each cat walked to a column and lay down to stare into its green light, which began flickering rapidly and irregularly as if tapping out a code when beheld by a cat. I turned to face behind me, suddenly suspicious of what might be lurking amid the columns of papers. Thereafter the dream varied from night to night, never welcoming and never improving. While I was well aware that Trevor and Finley suffered at the same time, as was customary we did not discuss the substance of our dreams; I only know that Finley feared certain trees.

This hint, however, was enough. That night I rode through a haunted broccoli forest on a curious beast most resembling a batrachian camel. As the dendritic herbage pressed closer about the path, my camel started drooling and hawing. Suddenly it bucked me off and ran to eat the nearest broccoli head. The other giant stalks around us shivered in a sudden gust of wind, which we soon learned was caused by the descent of a giant Venus flytrap that seized us in its maw and slowly and painfully digested us. However, this did not end the dream. I was reborn as a pea plant, and as soon as I pushed my sprout aboveground a large head of broccoli above me said, “Learn your lesson yet, murderer?”

Being a mere sprout I couldn’t say anything, and after a pause it continued, “Omnivores make me sick. Kill and eat anything and everything in your path when you have a choice what to eat. What did any of us green growing things ever do to any of you? Why don’t you work some justice in the world and stick to meat?” It made an odd smirk; suddenly I smelled steak, pork, chicken, and mutton and it said, “Don’t you know vegetarians taste better anyway?” Suddenly a horse came up and bit me off at ground level and digested me rather less painfully than the Venus flytrap had. I woke in a grim and bitter mood; at lunch I ordered second helpings of every vegetable on the line and took great pains to chew every bite to pulp.

Towards the end of the first month of summer break, I was taking Saturday off for extracurricular reading. As Finley’s pronouncements on the roots of New England culture were less than satisfying, I had asked Cornelius for recommendations of books explaining the lineaments of New England social history. He had given me several suggestions, and that morning I started the first doorstop on the pile, a once-popular novel by a once-regarded author who had met an untimely end mauled by a tame bear he had teased to distraction.

The novel opened with a family of failed Joads who moved from hotel to hotel in a desperate effort to escape the utter emptiness of their lives filled with aught but repar-twee and bad and aged badinage. Alas, while the novel began by saying that all good stories had a healthy helping of sheer coincidence, it was soon clear that the same was true of other stories as well. Near the beginning of the novel, the narrator introduced the hackneyed catchphrase of his family that stood in for an overarching theme expressive of a universal human truth, “The big chunks float to the top.” Repeated every five pages or so, it was changed slightly after the family acquired a hamster that was named Big Chunk at the behest of their six-year-old after the poor thing managed not to drown when it slipped into the toilet in a supposedly cute incident. Alas, Big Chunk’s days were numbered, but after it died, to keep the little one from crying overmuch, it (the hamster, not the six-year-old, alas) was taken to a taxidermist and stuffed; a few days later the family’s old grandfather saw it in the dark on the counter where the little one had left it when she had to go to bed, and being deathly frightened of rats the poor fellow slipped and, alas, fatally cracked the back of his skull. Alas, tragedy had not yet finished with the family, however, for a few years later the mother and one son were killed in a plane crash over the Atlantic from which, alas, the only thing recovered was the floating stuffed hamster, for, after all, “Big Chunk floats to the top.” The story continued in its thumb-in-eye, elbow-in-rib style until the incest started, whereupon I threw it against the wall with a groan.

Just then Trevor came in with coffee. “What’s this?”

“Tolle, lege, fle,” I answered.

He picked it up and looked at the spine. “The Hotel’s New Hamster?”

“Yes, New England has long been an unhealthy place.”

“Is it any good?”

I shook my head. “I said ‘alas’ a lot.”

“Say, Anne and I are going to the pond. Want to tag along and meet her friend Ingrid?”

As my plans were in abeyance, I said, “Sure. Who’s she?” Trevor pulled out one of the bottles of wine from our communal store and popped it in his carrying bag as he said, “Grad student in econ, lives in town, works at the town library part time.” He paused for a second in recall and added, “She’s from Minnesota, had a dog named Hurley as a girl, likes squirrels more than chipmunks, and for the longest time wanted to be a fireman when she grew up until her brother became one and made the whole prospect thoroughly uncool. You two ought to get along fine.”

“Okay, sure, it’ll beat Fuller punishing me for moving my chair too loudly.”

“She got you too?”

“With a ruler.”

“Ouch. Man, she’s got a mean aim.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Thank goodness she’s off at work most of the time.”


“Or whatever she does. Probably tests acoustical equipment for high-tech firms.”

“They’re in good hands then.”

We walked off to the main green to meet Anne and Ingrid. I said, “Hi, Anne, how’re the bugs?”

“Tasty, Hugh, just crunchy and juicy.” As usual, I gagged as she chuckled, and she said, “Hugh Viner, Ingrid Gustafson.” Ingrid was a tall lightly-curled blonde with sparkling green eyes. “Pleased to meet you, Hugh,” she said and shook my hand, which she held onto a little longer than necessary. “Trevor tells me you’re a linguist.”

“And Trevor tells me you’re an economist.”

As we walked northwest towards the edge of campus, Trevor told us a bit about his work, which was not only interesting in itself but in his telling, and drew me out on our hikes and other topics, and soon we were past campus and walking along the wide paved path to Meyer Pond. After he finished, Ingrid asked, “So, Hugh, Trevor tells me you’re from Texas.”

“Yes, I’m heartland born and partly heartland raised.”

“I spent a year in Texas back in high school. Dad thought I should broaden my experience beyond Minnesota. He said small-town tomboys like me needed to learn about the big city. I was there back when they had the big upset in the elections.”

I had estimated her as a year older than me, so I knew what she meant. “When the Renovation Party took over the legislature from the Independents back in ’28, right?”

“Yes. That was quite a campaigning season! I was living with a family of born and bred Independents, and they kept assuring me that all the scandals meant nothing, all the small businessmen and farmers would keep voting Independent, and then election night they didn’t say a word to each other.”

“I remember that election well. Father was so overjoyed he bought me my first three beers.”

“So are you a Renovationist too?”

“For the most part, yes. They seem a bit less corrupt, and they have a better feel for what we need to keep moving forward and upward.”

“Really? How can you say they’re less corrupt after all those shady land deals in the Llano Estacado?”

“Some of those are actionable, certainly, but in many cases they’re simply undoing deals the Independents made with donors.”

By this time we had arrived at the edge of the pond and sat down on a couple of benches. After pouring each of us a plastic cup of wine from a bottle in her bag, Ingrid continued, “So you support Mexican industries against all the poor ranchers out west?”

“Oh, please, those poor ranchers are richer than your three richest widow aunts. Texas needs continued investment by Mexican high-tech firms. And it’s only fair; why should we lock them out when those same ranchers invest so much in Mexican medium industry?”

“But the Railroad Commission issued that report...”

“The Railroad Commission is an Independent stronghold bought, sold, inherited and appointed. It’s been regulating the hell out of the economy for the benefit of landed interests and backwards manufacturers for centuries now. It needs scrapping.”

“So you don’t agree with the Independents’ program of greater economic independence?”

“We got independence from Mexico three centuries ago. The Independent Texas Party is about that many centuries out of date. Do you want economic independence or economic growth?”

Trevor was watching us with an amused smile on his face while Anne seemed a bit bored, and between sips from his wine cup he asked, “Hugh, while I find this fascinating, I have to interrupt. What was that expression, ‘your three widow aunts’?”

Ingrid and I laughed, and I said, “ ‘Richer than your three richest widow aunts.’ It’s a common expression back home. Back in ’18, the governor took kickbacks like it was part of his salary and stashed all the money in bank accounts in the names of his widowed aunts. After he was indicted, impeached, and imprisoned, he protested he was only helping out his mother’s poorer sisters. Old Governor Van Horn was, of course, an Independent who was pardoned by the next elected Independent governor; all of his successors by succession were under indictment as well and so he had to wait a couple years. And so people like to use that expression for our usual way of government, and not just Renovationists.” I paused and added, “Or at least that’s the accepted origin. It’s possible Finley could correct me,” and Trevor choked on a sip of wine.

“I’d like to hear that.”

“Oh, I’m sure we’d both learn much that was new.”

Trevor stood up and said, “Hugh, Ingrid, I’m afraid Anne and I must recuse ourselves for a while. We’ll be over by Dead Dog Rock, but please, don’t feel we dislike your company. See you in thirty minutes or so?”

We agreed, and after they walked off arm in arm along the gravel path to the right Ingrid moved to sit on my bench and we faced each other. “So you and Trevor hike a lot? Did you do that before coming to New England?”

“Me personally? Yes, since I was little. I’d walk everywhere around, wherever we lived.”

“Oh, so did I! Minnesota’s a great place for hikes. Where did you like hiking the most when you were a boy?”

“Kenya probably. Our first few months there the first time the three of us would drive out of Nairobi and find a nice place to picnic and walk.”

“So you must know lots of good food.”

“I actually didn’t pay attention to the food. It was the music I remember.”

“Ah, do you play?”

“No, not really. You?”

“I studied piano as a girl. I was never that good at it. I hated practicing when I could be outside, you know. But I love music, listening to it I mean.”

I smiled, “Even the Via Mundi?”

She grimaced, “What a sad man he must have been. No, not Miskatonic music. It’s too 20th century.”

“Hey now, that’s just unfair. That’s a 21st century work, and a lot of 20th century music was very good.”

“I try to steer clear of 20th century art. It was a very uneven period.”

“Aye, it was that.”

“I took a class on 20th century art history and esthetic thought, and it was all so confused, confusing, and tedious. The class was fun though.”

“What was your favorite part?”

“Oh, I guess it was this time we read an essay about high culture versus popular culture by, let’s see, Mersky, Anatoly Mersky. Did you ever see The Yellow Submarine?


“It was a plastivid from, oh, the last third of the century that used a lot of songs by some old ensemble; they were very popular once. The Beaters, I think. You’d recognize many of their melodies though. Anyway, the bad guys in the plastivid were an army of mean blue things, and Mersky showed in great detail how they represented the different figures of the Darmstadt School.”

“Ah, now that sounds promising.”

“Yes, the big bad general was Stockhausen, you see, while the obsequious hanger-on was Messaien, and the four-headed guard dog represented, oh, let’s see, some guy named...Doorknob? No, Adornment, I think. And three others I had to look up as well. And the flying fist Mersky showed was a portrait of Boulez worthy of the Northern Renaissance.”

“Sounds fun. It’s not a group I like overmuch.”

“No, I listened to some of their stuff and it made me happy I didn’t have to practice any of it as a girl. Haydn sonatas were quite good enough for me, and quite hard enough.” After a moment of thought she asked, “So you are familiar with the Darmstadt School?”

“A bit. When I was young I’d scour my parents’ music collection. They had lots of recordings of all sorts, old CDs, even a few old vinyl things, but mostly chip strips, of course. Then when I got older I started tracking down what I could on my own.”

“So you liked music that much?”

“Yeah, plus it was fascinating seeing all this art, well hearing it, all these traditions, that had died with the Subsidence. The Subsidence decapitated a lot of things.”

“It’s amazing how much of what people have done for almost a century is to dig out from under it and then dig up what they could of what survived.”

“Exactly. It’s sobering to think how much more could have been lost though.”

We discussed music for a few more minutes, and for a minute we sat companionably in silence looking at the pond. Suddenly Ingrid stood; she looked at me warmingly from her slightly tilted head and said with a beguiling smile, “Would you please be so kind as to accompany me on a stroll around the pond?” I readily agreed and stood up, and when I offered my arm she took it in such a way as to press my elbow deep into her left breast and lock my arm in position with hers; she looked me knowingly in the eye and said, “Such a beautiful day!” As I was in a bit of mental turmoil centering on my elbow, I merely said, “Yes, it certainly is,” an all-purpose answer at which Ingrid smiled.

I then rallied and asked her, “Sorry to have monopolized the conversation. Please tell me a bit about yourself. What does your family do?”

“Dad’s a manager at the local cooperative. Mom is a teacher at the high school.”

“Which subjects?”

“Swedish and math.”

“So do you speak?”

“Of course. Mom and Dad are very devoted to our heritage.”

“Do you have any sibs?”

“Two older brothers. Karl’s a fireman and Sven’s a clerk at the co-op.”

“What do you plan to do after you finish here?”

“Move back home and work for the state. There’s much need for well-trained economists.”

“So you’re...?”

“Oh, I’m a member of the Progressives, yes, but I’m not a full socialist like most of them. Our state needs a bit of the Renovation philosophy too, enough to make us competitive against all the branches of heartland firms. Mom and Dad always argue with me about that, saying if I had my way Minnesota would become the northern counterpart of Oklahoma or a second Coahuila. I tell them both places are making great progress, but they disagree with the social costs. I say we need to reduce discriminatory incorporation practices, and they say if we allow Arizona firms to come in today, Texas, Mexico, and New Mexico firms will be all over the state the next day. Once I said that if we followed their policies to the letter, we’d end up one big muddy hippie commune like California, but I wasn’t thinking there; Uncle Lars and his family live out there and Mom and Dad envy him, so now they call me ‘the square.’ Torget, rather. We have lively conversations, I assure you!”

“Square? You’re quite well-rounded.” After a second I decided it would be best not to acknowledge that I had spoken unthinkingly, and she simply flushed a little and said, “Why, thank you. I should certainly hope so.”

We had come to the section of the path that ran between a spur of woods and a flurry of bushes along the shore; we turned to look out over the pond through the branches of the bushes and she stood slightly ahead of me as if consciously positioning herself to give me a view past the margins of her sun dress. She raised her arm to point, “Look at the squirrel!” I said nothing and soon noticed she was smiling and looking back at me. “No, look past the other end of my arm, Hugh,” she said, apparently flattered. I blushed and looked towards the squirrel, pondering the strongly context-dependent attractions of lace.

We walked on along the path, and she asked me, “What about your family?”

“Father is an astronautical engineer. Specializes in planning and securing payloads, but he’s done any number of launches as well. When I was a boy, he worked overseas, but now he’s at the Texas Astronautical Corporation. Mother was an accountant he met during his first job in Brazil. She passed away twelve years ago.”

“Was she Brazilian?”

“No, she was from the heartland. Santa Fe, actually.”

“Do you think Texas astronautics will ever catch up with Baikonur?”

“Hard to say. They’re innovative fellows. We have enough trouble competing with Brazilian firms.”

“Any sibs?”


She asked me about my linguistic work and I about her studies. Shortly we were close to Dead Dog Rock, and Ingrid asked, “Would you like to have dinner with me?”


“Do you like lamb?”

“Depends on the recipe.”

“There’s a restaurant near my apartment that serves the best lamb.”

“I look forward to it.”

“What are your plans this afternoon?”

“I have to read an article. It will take a couple of hours, and then I’ll be free.”

She gave me her directions and said, “I expect you at six. I supplied half the wine this afternoon, so you have to bring a bottle tonight. I’m a simple girl with plain tastes; Cabernet is fine.”

Trevor and Anne were ahead of us hashing something out over Trevor’s bottle of wine with vigorous expressions but voices much too low to overhear, and Trevor soon looked up and waved us over. I heard him say, “We’ll just have to wait and see,” and Anne nodded.

“How was the walk?”

Ingrid replied, “Oh, it was wonderful, so fresh and relaxing. Hugh was a bit distracted though.”

Trevor and Anne smiled and I blushed, and Ingrid continued, “Yeah, he did that the whole time, poor fellow.” This time all of us laughed and we started walking back to campus; as Trevor discoursed winningly on the geological features we passed, Ingrid took my arm again briefly and whispered in my ear, “You two make a great pair. I’m still not sure which of you I like listening to more.”

I smiled and said, “I do hope I won’t have to carry the whole conversation tonight.”

“Oh, I expect you to dig deep tonight. I have many delightful secrets,” she replied, and I grinned in surprise without, I hoped, too much of a blush. She then let go my arm and danced trippingly over to Trevor, “Thank you for inviting me along, Trev. It was a superb idea.”

He glanced between me and her and smiled, “I thought it might be. What do you have planned for tonight?”

“Oh, just a tender little lamb for dinner and an early night perhaps.”

After we left Anne and Ingrid on the green to go their own ways, we walked back to the dorm. Trevor had looked at me appraisingly the whole time, and as we sat opposite each other in our common room I could not concentrate properly on role and case marking in the Micronesian languages, while Trevor found unwonted difficulty in following some derivations. Finally he said, “Big date tonight, I take it.”

“Yes, I’d say so.”

“She’s very pretty. She seems to like you a lot.”

“Seems a safe bet, yes.”

“And you?”

“I’m very taken.”

“Treat her well. It’s not my business, but Anne’s a good friend of hers. I don’t want to have to mediate between you two if something goes wrong.”

Finley looked up from The Hotel’s New Hamster and said, “Got a date? Who with?”

“A Miss Ingrid.”



“She’s sweet. She helped me out at the library in town when I was looking for a store with calamine lotion.”

“Finley, why do you keep picking poison ivy?”

“Lay off. I only did it twice.”

“Okay, okay.”

“She’s Swedish, right?”

“Minnesota Swede, not from Sweden.”

“Swedish women are easy, you know.”

I had had enough for once from him and replied sharply, “Not really, no.”

Trevor nodded and added, “That’s right. Any Scandinavian will tell you it’s the Danish women who are easy. The Swedes still have a lingering attachment to tradition and religion.”

I added, “Besides, if so, so what?”

“Nothing wrong with it. Just saying.”

“Okay then. Sorry.”

He picked the book back up and said, “Man, this book is great! Big Chunk’s so cute! Where’d you find it?”

That evening right at six I knocked on Ingrid’s door. She had put on a light touch of makeup and tied her hair back with a blue ribbon; she wore a high-necked blue dress belted at the waist. She kissed me on the cheek and took the bottle of wine as she said, “You are very handsome this evening.”

“Thank you, miss. You are stunning.”

She twirled on her left foot and smiled, “Oh, it’s just a little something I threw on. All my best clothes are at the cleaner’s.”

We walked to the restaurant and talked about our jobs. “So, you’re just digging through scraps of refuse?” she exclaimed, shaking her head.

“There’s gold in them thar piles, you know.”

“It sounds like they have everything under the sun in them.”

“The university wants it done, and I’m the man for the job.”

“Ah, a man who takes pride in his work. What a rarity!”

“And do you take pride in your work?”

“Oh, certainly! I’m the best periodicals acquisition assistant this side of the Mississippi.”

I told her about our efforts cataloguing unbound materials, and she said, “Manuscripts? Anything interesting?”

“No, just lots of unpublishable maunderings by senile emeriti, mostly.”

We then talked about music and reminisced about sundry things and after dinner I walked her back to her apartment. She opened the door and reached out for my hand. “Please come in, sir.” When the door shut behind me she pressed herself into my arms and pulled my head to hers, and I shuddered in surprise. After our kiss, she looked up at me as she reached back and undid her blue ribbon; I reached up greedily from her waist about halfway to her face and she smiled.

Two hours later I sat exhausted on her couch as she leaned back against me after opening the wine. She reached her arm back around my neck and nuzzled my ear as I massaged around. She looked up at me and laughed. “You can’t get enough, can you? My mother would say you were weaned too soon.”

“What about you?”

“I’m glad you like my feminine wiles. The girls like your attention.”

“You were very distracting this afternoon.”

“And you were very charming about it. You looked like your palms were itching the whole time, you know?”

“That’s how I felt.”

She laughed. “Yes, about the time you told me about your family, that was when I finally decided that unless you completely screwed up dinner, I was going to have you tonight.”

“So soon?”

“So late. I wanted to make sure you weren’t just playing with me.”

“Are you sure you’re not just playing with me?”

“You’ll just have to wait and find out, won’t you?” she said sweetly, and added, “Stay over?”

“If you’ll let me.”

She looked me in the eye and said, “Please do.”


The next morning I awoke next to her well slept and exhausted; she was on her right side, head on her hand, watching me. “Good morning.”

“Mmm, good morning,” I said and pulled down the sheet a little. “And good morning, girls. That’s a lovely shade of pink.”

She laughed. “You’re incorrigible.”

“And you’re insatiable.”

“Not at the moment, no. Tomorrow maybe. I’m kind of sore.”


“Coffee is ready.” She pointed to a cup on the nightstand next to me. “Care to take me out for breakfast? I’m a little too tired to cook.”

I nodded and sat up, and when she stood up I reached for my coffee and watched her dress. After she watched me dress, we went to a nearby cafe and ordered something, I don’t remember what, as we talked importantly of unimportant things.

“So we’d throw the ball and shout, ‘Where’s the ball, Hurley? Find the ball, Hurley!’ and he’d run all over the yard. Then once I kept the ball in my hand as I made like I threw it, and he ran all over the yard, and I started calling, ‘Where’s your brain, Hurley? Find your brain, Hurley!’ And he just kept running all around the yard, poor boy.”

We laughed and I asked, “What are you doing tonight? I have to get some work done today and you’re the sweetest distraction I can imagine, but I’d love to see you tonight.”

She nodded vigorously with bright open eyes and said, “Come at seven. I was planning on staying in. You can stay in with me and keep the little nibbling things that lurk in the dark away from me. —What did I say?”

“It’s just I’ve heard that expression before.”

“It’s very common here.”

“It’s frighteningly concrete.”

“This is a dark place. Trevor told me you two often wander around the woods at night. I wish you wouldn’t do that any more.”

“The woods are fine.”

“I’m not sure they are.”

“We don’t go far.”

“There might be bears.”

“No, not this far south.”

After a pause, she said, “Perhaps not, but please, for me.”

I looked at her and said, “All right.”

She kissed me and said, “Thank you. Not all the nibbling things in the dark are little.”

Shortly we parted. When I got back to the room, Finley was about two-thirds to the end of The Hotel’s New Hamster, but even he seemed to have hard weather making further progress. “Wearing thin, Finn?”

“Well, I think it started getting too much with the gang rape, and there really is no need for that bear any more.”

“Gang rape? I didn’t get that far.”

“Well, you’d think a woman would be a bit more affected by such a thing.”

I shook my head. “It’s a New England novel, Finley. You can’t expect normal human behavior from such a thing.”

He put down the book and said, “How is Ingrid this morning?”

“Very beautiful.”

“I told you Swedish women are easy.”

“She’s a grad student. We’re not a representative sample, Finley.”

“Touché. But Texans are easy.

I laughed. “Yes, Finn, we’re as loose as our bolos.”

“You were probably her easiest conquest ever.”

“Jealousy ill becomes you, my boy.”

He laughed and said, “I have to give the hamster a rest. Want some coffee?”

“In a few. I need a shave and shower.”

“Set to, sir, you look like this tree I saw in the woods last week. It was all broken and hunched over and covered with moss.”

I went into my room and collected my towel and toiletries and fifteen minutes later looked much more presentable. When I walked into the dining room, I feared and hoped for a loud burst of trumpets out of a Venetian vespers announcing my entrance, but nobody noticed a thing. Instead, Purnell finished, “ ‘No, it says, “Welcome to Jamaica, mon, have a nice day,” ’ ” and the crowd burst into laughter. Trevor looked up and waved me over. “I wasn’t expecting you quite so early.”

“I was in bed early.”

“Ah good, early to rise and early to bed.”

We chuckled and I said, “Didja miss me?”

“Oh, I don’t know how we made it through the night without your stalwart presence.”

“Interesting, ’cause I completely forgot about you two.”

He laughed and said, “Grab some grub.”

“Already eaten.”

“Grab some joe.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

When I got back to the table, Trevor was chatting with Alicia Henstridge. “Oh, no, the woods are quite safe for ten miles around.”

“Aren’t there bears?

“Oh, goodness me, no, not this far south.”

“But what about the caves up north way?”

“I’ve been inside them. There are no animal traces. That’s usually a very good sign, you know.”

With vague fears unable to make any headway against concrete facts, she could only shake her head. “Well, I’d never do go out there myself. There are too many dark stories about this part of the world.”

“And every other part of the world if you heed the right people.”

“It does sound exciting though,” she said with a charming pout. “You sound very brave.”

“It’s just trees in the dark, Leesh.”

Finley arrived just then. “And poison ivy.”

Trevor said, “Have you considered buying some work gloves?”

“I lost them.”

“Can’t you get more?”

“Dr. Kay says no. She said if I get poison ivy a few more times I might learn to recognize it.”

Trevor choked a little inside as I asked, “Finley, have you encountered poison oak yet?”

“Well, I thought I did once, but actually it was poison sumac.”

“Please don’t take up mushroom hunting, Finn. You’re much too nice a guy.”

Alicia asked, “Do they have poison oak this far north?”

Trevor replied, “Yeah, since the Subsidence it’s expanded north. We’re near the northern edge of its current extent.”

I asked, “Eleanor and Wen?”

“Yep. It’s not reached as far as the Merrimack Valley yet. It’s not inside the Lip, either, but it can be found just north of the Miskatonic further inland.”

After Finley and Alicia went back to the line when lunch started serving, Trevor said, “I’m going northwest tonight, up to the outcropping. Forecast is cloudless. I want to see Jupiter’s moons.”

“Sorry, I have other plans.”

“So it’s not just one night. Good for you, man. I assume I won’t see you again until after work tomorrow?”

“After I finish these two articles, I’ll be gone so fast I’ll show up on Doppler radar.”

“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Hugh’s da man!”

I laughed hard and said, “Oh, hush.”

“Yes, some wonders are best appreciated in awed silence.”

“The Hudson River School had nothing on Ingrid.”

Trevor shook his head. “You hang around art museums too much, Hugh.”

“Please allow me to quote you on that, Trev.”

He looked puzzled. “Sure, whatever.”

The state of unalloyed bliss lasted two weeks. Two Saturday evenings later Ingrid was curled up next to me on the couch as we drank wine and listened to Mario Fonseca’s Fourth Wind Quintet. At the end of the third movement, she said, “Wow. And he’s still alive?”

“Yes, he’s one of the leading Mexican composers. Lopez is better known, but Fonseca’s more talented, I think.”

The finale started just then and she sat up a little. After a minute, she said, “Oh! Now that’s a fugue.” At the end she smiled at me and said, “Thank you. Do you have more of his music?”

I said, “Quite a bit. I might be prevailed upon to give you some.”

“Oh, please do! That was delicious.”

“Sweets for the sweet,” I said, and she giggled.

“You would know.” She blushed a little and added, “As would Anne.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Oh, we had brunch today and she asked about us, so I bragged a little.”

“How so?”

“Oh, I told her you’re very smart. Quite the cunning linguist.”

I looked at her with one eyebrow raised. “Quite.”

“Oh, I hope you don’t mind. It made her laugh. If I should have been more private, I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s not that. I thought it was funny too the first hundred times I heard it, but that was five years ago. I’m sick of it.”

She mouthed an “Ooooh” and smiled wickedly, “So what do you say when someone says it now?”

“Usually someone asks, ‘So you’re a cunning linguist, eh?’ and I’ll answer, ‘Yes, and I can tell you’re a master debater.’ Unless they’re a lot bigger than me, in which case I’ll say, ‘No, no, the agentive noun is formed from the past participle. The appropriate term is cunnilinctor or cunnilinctrix, depending.’ Or else, if a pretty woman asks me, I’ll just say ‘Why yes, yes I am.’ ”

She laughed loudly and said, “Remind me never to compete with you making dirty jokes.”

“They’re not dirty, just sexual.”

“Yes, they’re dirty.”

“Do you seriously think what we do is dirty?”

“Yes. We have to wash afterwards, right?”

“We have to wash after eating too, but there’s nothing wrong with eating. It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures.”

“Physical pleasures have to be washed up after afterwards. Not like music. Music is pure. Thought is pure.”

“Intellectual equals pure, physical equals impure is a false equation.”

“I’ve never seen a better alternative presented.”

“The intellectual realm grows out of the physical world; it’s not separable from it or opposed to it at root.”

“The physical world is inconstant and ever-changing. The intellectual realm is eternal and unchanging. The physical world is filled with nasty little nibbling things in the dark, while the intellectual realm is filled with undecaying truths the Old Ones themselves contemplate in the dark until their return.” After a short pause in which she looked at me sidewise as if gauging my reaction, she said, “The physical world is no grappling hold for a body seeking better. It crumbles in your grasp and leaves you falling.”

“I don’t think the physical world is evil. It’s a wondrous world spread out before us to flourish in and savor.”

“No, the physical world’s not evil, it’s just dirty and temporary. It’s earth, the clay under our feet, the world of the inert and of inertia, of the grit we have to flush off our bodies once we have drawn what use or pleasure we can from it.”

Irritated, I shot back, “And when will you flush me off?”

With a look as if I had slapped her, Ingrid snapped back, “I’d never do that.”

“If you’re so worried about getting dirty...”

“The dirt is sometimes worth the price.”

Rather than listening to her, I plowed on, “So how long till you decide I’ve been temporary enough a pleasure for you?”

She started crying. “Why are you tormenting me? That’s entirely unfair. What are you, a master debater? So we disagree. I’ll still hold onto you as long as you’ll have me.”

I apologized for my rash words and held her, but neither of us was responsive to the other’s body that night; when we went to bed she simply said, “I’d think if you cared for someone you’d listen better to what she says.” I slept badly and awoke the next morning a little sick at heart. We lay in bed looking at each other, and I pulled the sheet off her and pushed her on her back. Shortly she said, “What’s that word?”

I raised my head. “Which word?”



“Yeah, that’s it. —Oh yes, that’s certainly it.”

A few evenings later Ingrid sat at her desk as I read on her couch. She chuckled and I looked up at her expectantly.

“I had lunch with my friend Susan today.”

“What did you tell her about me?”

“Don’t be vain. I didn’t say anything about you.”

“So who is Susan?”

“My friend,” she smiled teasingly.

“Who you had lunch with, yes.”

“And didn’t say anything to about you.”

“And who you seem determined not to tell anything about to me.”

She chuckled and continued, “She’s a fourth-year in cultural studies.”

“Oh, one of those.

“As opposed to one of those others, yes.”

“And what did you and Susan talk about?”

“She’s got her dissertation topic approved.”

“A fourth-year?”

“She just ended her fourth year, so she’s fifth-year now, I guess.”

“So why did she get it approved over the summer?”

“That’s what I was chuckling about.”

I looked at her and she looked back innocently at me. After a minute I said, “And?”

“Oh, that’s it.”

I smiled, “Oh, okay,” and returned to reading my paper.

“Seems to me you’re insanely curious.”

“I’m perfectly sane.”

“That’s questionable. You’re not badgering me to tell you all about Susan’s topic after such a build-up, so I’m sure there’s a clinical term for you somewhere.”


“I’d never associate that term with you, really.”

“And there’s a term for you somewhere too.”

“I doubt that. All psychological diagnostic terms name the lack of some quality. I lack nothing.”

“That’s true. I misspoke.”

She sat down beside me and kissed my cheek. “Okay, I’ll tell you. —Are you familiar with the Collier Collection?”

“No, never heard of it.”

“No one has, pretty much. This alum from the very first graduating class had a lot of old videos. Just piles of ephemera that he donated to the school on his death as a protest against the way they always pestered alums to donate, see? Always interrupted him at dinner, button-holed him at alumni get-togethers, all that, and he really hated that. Susan thinks he went out of his way to just collect every piece of fluff he could find.”

“That is uncomfortably familiar, yes. And that means that they’re pestering yet more alums to give us money to pay people like me to go through all the piles of crap sitting around this place, and with any justice, they’re going to follow his lead and bury this place ten feet deep with refuse until the vicious circle exhausts the economy and we return to hunting-gathering.”

“You’re clearly not up on current economic theory, Hugh. That’s the best thing that could happen to the economy.”

“I bow to your superior knowledge.”

“Thank you.” After we finished laughing, she continued, “So anyway, Susan was really bored a few weeks ago and stumbled across the Collier Collection in an old converted storage closet in the basement of Handley Hall. The endowment he left is sufficient to pay for lighting ten minutes a day and for a cleaning man to come in once a year, and since the university is as passive-aggressive as Collier was, they have some poor lackey come in after his shift voluntarily, in quotes, with a stopwatch to turn on the lights for ten minutes, then go home.”

“I see. So basically it’s the modern university stripped down to its essence.”

“Only according to certain educational theories.”

“So, let me guess. She will do the job of the poor lackey voluntarily every day for four years and receive her doctorate for a study of public finance in the modern university.”

“Certainly not! It’s a private endowment, Hugh.”

“Sorry, you’re right.”

“No, actually, she noticed this poor guy going downstairs with a stopwatch and followed him. She looked around in the collection while he stood there with the stopwatch and got curious, so the next day she found out which office is in charge of the collection...”

“I’ll bite. Which office?”

“Oh, that changes month to month depending upon employee performance. The lowest-ranked office gets it as an incentive to improve. Right now it’s Shrubbery Trimming.”

“I can see that. The shrubs have been a bit shabby recently.”

“So anyway, they said the collection’s open 9:00 to 5:10 every weekday, and you can go in and borrow stuff at any time during open hours, but between 9:00 and 5:00 you have to bring your own flashlight. There’s even a checkout sheet; it’s close to 60 years old and heavily yellowed and had never been used before her, but it’s actually there. She made arrangements though that if she gets appropriate funding, they’ll let her turn the light on whenever she wants.”

“That’s remarkably flexible for Shrubbery Trimming.”

“Well, they’ve been in charge of the Collier Collection for most of the last 17 years and have started a program of new and innovative thinking outside the box to make sure they’re never behind Drains and Tunnels ever again.”

“So what is she going to do with all the stuff in the collection?”

“Well, there’s a massive heap or three of discs of old music videos from long before the Subsidence. She started going through some of them and has decided to write her dissertation on them.”

“All of them?”

“No, that’s for her post-doc research.”

“And how can she view them anyway?”

“That took some digging, but she found someone who could devise a convertor for her.”

“I guarantee you that’ll be the most valuable result of her entire dissertation.”

“That and getting a PhD.”

“That’s a value judgment.”

“True. Anyway, she’s going to write about the figure of the bear doll in early 21st century Korean pop videos.”

After a long pause, I said, “I see. So she knows Korean then.”

“Oh no, not in the least.”

“So she’ll be taking Korean. Does MIT even offer Korean?”

“No, and she doesn’t have to take it. You see, the videos are a distinct text from the songs themselves, so she actually doesn’t have to know what the songs say.”

“You’re having me on, missy. You’re talking about cultural studies. The text is all. There’s nothing but the text. Everything in life is just a text. Life itself is just a text. That’s the basic credo of the field: ‘We believe in one God, the Text, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen; We believe in one Lord, the Subtext, eternally begotten of the Text...We believe in the Hermeneutic Circle, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Text and the Subtext...’ ”

She had cocked her head and shortly said, “Sorry, I believe that’s the creed of the comparative literature sect.”

“Scarcely an iota of difference.”

“And yet millions of dollars have been spent fighting over that iota.”

“True indeed.”

“But you’re right that the cultural studies department refused to accept her proposal for just that reason. So she challenged them that if she could find another department to supervise her dissertation, then she could get a dual PhD from both departments.”

“So...oh my.”

“Yeah, she went straight to folklore and wowed them into backing her after fifteen minutes.”

“Cripes, that’s like putting her in solitary confinement and then giving her a blank pardon form.”

“Well put, Hugh. So that was at the end of last semester, and she waited until the sticklers were away at conferences to spring it on the faculty meeting. There was just barely a quorum and she drugged the coffee and tea so everyone was really tired, and they just slid her proposal through at the end of the meeting so they could go home.”

“Very enterprising. So what is her actual thesis?”

“Well, she showed me some of the videos. Bear dolls and people dressed as bears show up with remarkable frequency. There was one that had a young woman boxing with a bear, and another where a little girl tortured a bear doll, and on and on. Clearly they found bears very troubling, as if a whole generation of Korean women had been traumatized by bears. One folklore professor she talked to thought that it represented a rejection of westernization, while another thought it was a symptom of widespread anti-Russian sentiment, but Susan has a different idea. You see, in Korean mythology, the Korean people originated when a bear and a tiger wanted to become human, and the bear was given the task of living in a cave eating garlic without seeing sunlight. The bear became a woman who married a heavenly prince and gave birth to the founder of the Korean nation.”

“You mean one of our folklore profs actually knew some genuine folklore?”

“Oh, no, Susan read that in a book somewhere.”

“Ah, I see.”

“So, anyway, her idea is that it represents a rejection of traditional gender roles in Korean society.”

“Maybe it merely bespoke a widespread revulsion against garlic.”

“I’ll mention that to her. She might want to devote a chapter to disputing it.”

“And how can she test this if she doesn’t even know Korean? We’re talking about, what, over a century ago? Korean culture has changed enormously since then, so she can’t even ask any contemporary Koreans to be sure she knows what was going on then because they might well not know either.”

“But Hugh, a true work of art is a unity. All the parts converge to the same end.”

“And what if the meaning of the art work is that the world is radically dual? What if the videos are the peristyle of an opposing law? What if they are intended to be ironic reversals of the songs?”

“Then she should be able to discern that from the videos. The two parts will be opposed, and she merely needs to reverse one part to get the rest.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“I’m just arguing her position.”

“So, basically, whenever something doesn’t cohere to a single unity, she can reverse whatever elements of it she wants to arrive at any conclusion she desires.”

She sighed, “Yes, I think that’s the plan.”

“So I can get funding to do a dissertation proving exactly the opposite of her position using exactly the same materials, and we’ll be set for life! We’ll be the joint founders of a whole school of departments and centuries of later scholars will revere us as the tiger and the bear.”

“Hugh, the tiger didn’t become human. He ran off into the forest and was never heard from again.”

“Damn, I was so close!”

We sat there for a few moments in our respective thoughts and soon she asked, “Care for some wine?”

I glanced down to see how many pages remained in my paper and said, “That would be lovely.”

She walked into the kitchen; I followed and watched her as she opened the wine and poured each of us a glass. “To methodological rigor,” she toasted, and I replied the same.

We walked back to sit on the couch and she said, “Susan’s a dear girl.”

“But not methodologically rigorous.”

“No, I fear she’d only attain rigor in morte.

“She does sound to have a backbone though.”

“That she does, and a well-developed gall bladder.”

I chuckled and said, “Do you often discuss your girlfriends’ anatomies with outsiders?”

“Only with strange men.”

As we sipped our wine, I followed a sudden thought around for a short while and said, “If Finley starts going on about Korean bears, I’ll know who he’s been talking to.”

She choked slightly and said, “We should introduce them.”

“Don’t let’s set the stage for him to get any more ideas. He’s revolutionizing the field of folklore as it is; I’m not sure it could survive any more reform.”

A few minutes later she said, “It reminds me of a professor I had back in my undergrad days. He would have scourged her if he’d heard her talking. I can hear him now. ‘It’s all narrative with you guys. The narrative is all, any facts are just fitted into the latest narrative or discarded.’ He was convinced that the emphasis on narratives in the humanities was a revival of prescientific correlative thinking.”

“Prescientific correlative thinking...He has a point.”

“Yes, he’d always illustrate it with traditional Chinese thought, the cycle of the five elements in which every part of the world was classified into one of the five elements for any reason at all, so long as it stuck out convincingly to the mind. And once you’ve set up such a mythological system, it automatically excludes the discordant facts that a scientific mind would use to test, refine, and maybe reject its view of the world.”

“Yes, that’s very old hat.”

She replied, “It’s true though. But he always combined it with the insistence on narrative. ‘Narrative is a human trait that cannot be extended willy-nilly to the rest of the universe. Its proponents talk about narratives at the base of all human knowledge, but what narrative is there for quantum mechanics? If we only stuck to our narratives, nothing in science after Newton would have occurred, for Newton and his successors destroyed the narratives that had held Europe thrall for millennia.’ ”

“Ooh, that’s good stuff.”

“Yes, he’s quite a firebrand.”

“What do you think of all that?”

“At first I was entirely taken by it. But eventually I realized that narrative still does apply in the human realm, so the human sciences will have to take account of it too. Not everything is narrative, of course, but when it’s there you can’t ignore it. But I agree with him that there’s a danger in following our prescientific ancestors and seeing a narrative where there’s only chains of cause and effect, or simple coincidence for that matter. He would say that Marxism’s a perfect example of that, in which certain correlative categories are extended to all times and places, but that would just reflect the extension of correlative categories to all of human history by Hegel. He said that move simply made explicit the methodology of the Chinese ideas of the five elements.”

I thought and said, “Pretty intoxicating stuff for an undergrad. I can see why you’d accept it in whole at first. It does have some truth to it, but correlative thinking’s not the same as narrative. That’s a bit sloppy.”

“As Kant might have said, it has some regulative conceptions worth holding on to.”

I chuckled as she continued, “But Marxism in its original form isn’t a perfect example of that. It was mixed. You had the ridiculous Hegelianism at root, of course, which is what bastardized it, but to some extent a scientific approach to economics was grafted onto it. It was that mixture that made it so potent, really; you could jump from one leg to the other as needed. But it was the prescientific correlative thinking that won out and holds sway among all the woozy correlative narrativists in the humanities today.”

“No doubt they’d say you’re too entrained by the narrative of objective science.”

“Yes, the usual loyalty oath to your party writ large and forced onto everyone. Or rather everyone forced into a party with which no compromise or understanding is possible, necessary, or desirable. It’s amazing how those who claim to transcend the petty narratives they study refuse on principle to transcend their own narratives, but then I guess their narratives don’t allow that.”

“Of course, you know, you could make an argument that the Newtonian revolution just put a spin on earlier narratives.”

She laughed gleefully. “Yes, his colleagues tried that a couple of times. ‘But Bruce,’ one said, ‘quantum mechanics was presaged in earlier narratives.’ ‘Which ones?’ he asked, and they’d talk about primordial chaos and the like. He just smiled triumphantly and said, ‘And how the hell does primordial chaos have anything to do with structured randomness?’ He’d then give them a quick overview of all the debates over the nature of randomness and point out that in every case it was the people who rejected the study of probability and statistics who relied on the narratives of primordial chaos to try to chain the human mind within its former borders.

“He then said that it was, yes, a reversion to correlative prescientific thinking to try to reduce the actual facts of scientific history to a competition between narratives because the narratives themselves were woozy prescientific categories. Calling primordial chaos and quantum indeterminacy examples of the same thing was to force fundamentally distinct ideas into one category. At best the similarities were much too generic to tell you anything meaningful about any particular one, and in most cases they’re not even generic but just grab bags.”

I asked, “Did any of his interlocutors tell him their conversation was an interesting competition between alternative narratives?”

“Yes, and he replied that his interlocutor needed to spend less time in science studies and more time in studying science.”


“Yes, he has no patience for nonresponsive quips.”

“So what would it take to convince you that your narrative of the unfortunate grittiness of the world is at fundamental odds with your scientific views?”

She laughed, “Science is directed towards finding the eternal truths of the world, and to do so it must winnow the wheat of the permanent from the chaff of the temporary.”

“Or the temporal? What is permanent, truly permanent, apart from the permanent things of Buddhism? You’re certainly not, nor am I, nor is our knowledge.”

“You’re equivocating, Hugh. Our true knowledge is of permanent things, so we partake of them that way.”

“Yet with all this talk of the pleasures of permanent things you certainly take a great deal of pleasure in what is purely temporary.”

She smiled winsomely, “And not of great duration, for that matter. If it were simply the physical pleasure, it wouldn’t be worth the effort. But it’s a form of communication, Hugh, a sharing of truths. All communication is imperfect, you see, but when we...join up, the communication is otherwise...incommunicable.”

I grinned, “Das Ewigweibliche zieht uns hinein.

She giggled, “Who’s we?”

“Shall I spin you a narrative?”

“Oh, Hugh, your narratives always seem to end up sucking, and I have to spin something all-encompassing afterwards.”

“It’s a good system.”

She laughed and snuggled closer, “Yes, it certainly is.”

The next Thursday, as it was her day off, Ingrid asked to be shown the rabbit warren when I left for work. “Okay, for a short time.” We walked up to the library hand in hand and I checked her through our rigorous security measures: Old Grampa Ferguson looked her up and down and said, “Eh, ye look a harmless gal.”

Clarice saw me walk in with Ingrid and disappeared like a frog sinking into a pond to spread the gossip to the other two, who peeked over her head as she pointed out the doorway.

“Hey, mister boss!” said April, “No wonder you’re so nice to us now.”

“Nicer than you deserve, you rascals.”

“Who’s the pretty lady?”

Ingrid introduced herself and chatted with the trio for a few minutes.

April said, “Wow, a real librarian.”

Birwan added, “From a real library.”

Clarice looked her up and down. “So we don’t actually have to wear our hair in a bun and put on horn-rimmed glasses and make life hell for talkers?”

“Oh, you have to scourge the talkers! Excoriate the brutes, I always say.”

“But, I can actually look pretty?”

“Only if you think you can handle it. It’s a fearsome power in a library, you know.”

Clarice grinned and shook her shoulders, nose in the air. “Look out, you pikers. I’ll be the librarian pinup model in five years.”

I said, “Clarice, don’t you want to be known for your mind?”

“A girl can have both, Hugh.”

Ingrid and I looked at each other meaningfully and laughed. I said, “When you’re rich and famous, Clarice, will you remember all us little people who helped you on your way?”

“Hell no.” We all laughed.

I then set everyone to work to show Ingrid how the system worked, which she examined closely and questioned on every detail. I told them to continue while I showed Ingrid around, and she stared at the old common room and said, “What in the world happened here?”

“No idea. There’s just an awful mess we have to work our way through.”

We walked in a ways between piles up to our shoulders, and she looked at one pile. She took the various papers off the top in succession: An invoice marked paid from Grandley & Verger Publishers for two copies of Principles of International Trade in the Post-Subsidence Atlantic World dated 13 June 2087; an order from the chemistry department dated 2 March 2096 for the latest edition of the CRC Handbook, three copies; an announcement, undated, of a student production of Ibsen’s Ghosts; a request from a librarian for a new air conditioner in her office marked denied, dated 8 June 2070; a letter from the dean of students on changes to billing procedures dated 15 September 2061; a weekly shelving report from 6 May 2063; a flyer for an RPG festival on campus in mid-April 2053; a sheaf of visitor recommendations and complaints for the month of October 2037; a packet of student employee evaluations for the 2024 fall semester; and a flyer for Latin dance classes once weekly throughout the month of November 2016. We put the papers back and stepped gingerly around the pile. The base was three sheets by three sheets, separated slightly to lean in; two feet up it narrowed to two by two, again separated to lean in against each other; then for the last foot or so up to shoulder height rose a single tower of papers. Despite the evidence of the whole room, it seemed hardly stable enough to rise so high.

“Someone hates you guys, Hugh.”

“Feeling’s mutual,” I grimaced.

Something perturbed me about the papers we had checked, but Ingrid had turned around and walked back to the front. “Where’s your office, boss man?”

“Up there.”

“Ever make love on your executive desk?”

“I’m not a contortionist hot for pygmies.”


I opened the door to my three foot by three and a half foot accession of space occupied by partly catalogued manuscripts, and Ingrid looked up to see the bare bulb that buzzed soothingly late of an afternoon. “Somebody hates you personally, Hugh.” She thumbed through some of the manuscripts desultorily, then with a hint of quickened interest. She looked around and said, “You could do a rotating exhibit with manuscripts from the collection. You could do a different department every month, maybe a permanent exhibit jointly with the town library for manuscripts of local interest. I’d love to help you organize it. We could spend evenings late here going through the manuscripts together, learning all their secrets together, becoming collegial masters of local history!”

I looked at her in surprise. “I thought you wanted to return to Minnesota to work for the state.”

“Yes. Well...yes. You’re right. Sorry, I got caught up in the excitement. You do realize, we might be the last people ever to have an interest in any of this. It’s a shame we can’t do much with it. It will all fade and disappear, lost even from the ken of the Old Ones, and yet another part of the world will pass into darkness, and who would dare to recover it thence?”

There was an odd timbre to her speech, and I looked at her closely. “The old ones?”

“Local figure of speech.”

“But the old ones are already dead. Why would anyone ponder what’s in their ken?”

“They’re only sleeping...” she said, and fell silent. “Or so it is believed. It’s an odd place here,” she laughed.

I nodded. “Yes, this place is an uncracked nut to me.”

“Well, anyway, darling, would you like to try to organize an exhibition?”

“I’ll ask Cornelius, but don’t hold your breath.”

“It would give you some publicity. Tell him it would put the library back in the public eye. He might get the university to give you more funding.”

“,” I said. “Good selling point! I have to report to him before lunch, so I’ll push it then.”

I accompanied her to the work room, smiling at the whispered, “Look lively, he’s coming!”

“The cat is back,” I said.

“Hi again, nice library lady,” said April.

“Bye, nice library lady,” said Clarice.

Birwan merely smiled and blushed.

We walked to the front door and Ingrid kissed me a warm farewell, which drew a whistle from one of my young underlings, at which I bowed, Ingrid curtseyed, and both of us chuckled. After she left, I went back to the rabbit warren and April said, “How’d a guy like you get a lady like her?”

“How’d a solid worker like me get an assistant like you?”

“Serious goddamned luck in both cases, sir!” she saluted smartly.

I replied, “Corporal, your gig line’s askew.”

Even though she was in mufti, she looked down in surprise and I barked out a laugh and said, “Made ya look.” She bit her tongue and gave me the irked look common among military men faced with civilian supremacy used for ignoble ends, and I suspected visions danced in her head of my merciless hazing at the hands of the Institute’s entire corps.

Two Fridays later, Ingrid came in with me after lunch, having finished her half day. She pulled a chair out of the work room and sat just outside the door to my office as I catalogued the latest batch of manuscripts. She read through a few of them with surprising interest. When I finished about four, I said, “I’m going to find some more for next week. Hold down the fort.” She looked up and nodded, “Take your time.”

I walked out into the old common room and went right to an untapped pile. I noticed several manuscripts and took note of their positions in the tower as I pulled them out. How the piles never tipped or spilled was a never-ending puzzle to all of us that we gave great thanks for, and after getting an armful walked back to the wall and back towards my office as I looked through them. When I got close to the corner of the hallway on which my office opened, I heard Ingrid talking and listened as curiosity gave way to despair. “Yes, there are some amazing finds here. We definitely need to know their contents. There’s a great deal of lore about the Old Ones, all sorts of lexical hints, and important local history going back centuries. We need to arrange for them to get shared with the town library so we can study them there without the others knowing about it. —Yes, I’m working on that. I have an in here. —Yes, the lovebird. —Oh, don’t worry, I can handle my sweetie. If he doesn’t give me access, I won’t give him access. It’s only fair.” She laughed shortly and said, “Listen, let me go. He should be back soon.” Soon she turned the corner and saw me standing there listening, and as she gasped and covered her mouth, I felt the world suddenly turning on a different axis than I had gotten used to. She said, “Hugh?”

“I’m glad I’ve been so useful to you. Who’s your friend?”

She said nothing. Suddenly she turned, reached into my office for her purse with her left hand, scooped an armful of manuscripts off the chair she had been sitting in with her right, and ran out of the warren. In a fit of anger I shouted, “Thief! Stop her!”

She ran out the office door as Grampa Ferguson snapped to attention and ran to cut her off. She slipped to the side suddenly and tripped him, but just then all eight bookers came in from the door to the stacks right next to her. “She hit Grampa!” said one, and they tackled her. I came up to her as they held her by the arms; she refused to look in my eyes, so I bent down and gathered all the scattered manuscripts. When I had finished, I stood up and quietly, “They’re just manuscripts, Ingrid. How could you use me for that? Your damn town library can say goodbye to any exhibitions. Local history can go drown itself in Meyer Pond as far as I’m concerned.” I turned to Ferguson. “Grampa, do not allow her in the library again. I’ll talk to Cornelius to get his approval.” He rubbed his left elbow grimly and said, “Right, Hugh.”

I looked at her again. “You should leave.”

“Hugh, can I explain?”

“I doubt it.”

“Will you give me the chance?”

“Leave now.”

Her face flushed and she started trying to pull her arms free, but the bookers held her tighter and she glared at the one on her left. I suddenly noticed he was holding her upper arm with his hand placed awkwardly, and I said, “God, Randy, don’t grope the woman. Just let her go.” He blushed in embarrassment and let her arm go. I sighed, “Let her go. She’ll leave.” One of the other bookers, May, held out her purse. Ingrid stretched her arms and rubbed them where she had been held, smoothed out her dress, took her purse, and walked out.

I had an emergency meeting with Cornelius, who came down as she was leaving. I explained what had happened, and he nodded at Ferguson. “She’s banned from the library. I’ll call her supervisor to tell them what happened. She’ll probably be disciplined, but I doubt she’ll be fired.”

“Please don’t get her fired. Just make sure she knows never to come back.”

He nodded. “In my office, Hugh, now.”

For the first five minutes he told me in no uncertain terms every violation of university regulations and common sense I had broken in allowing her in the rabbit warren. “Okay, we’ve met the letter of the rules. I’m sorry, Hugh.”

“Are library politics really that vicious? Getting close with me just to get her hands on some old manuscripts?”

He chuckled, “Sometimes. You really think that was politics at the town library? It’s certainly possible.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Maybe not. This is a strange place, Hugh. People have weird ideas here. From what you told me, this might be that.”

“Might be what?”

“I don’t really know, Hugh.”

“But why do you think that?”

“Just some of her words, the interest in the manuscripts. I’ve had requests to see the unbound materials from some pretty pushy, shady people, Hugh.” He rubbed his graying beard and added, “Be careful. Don’t follow up on it. Keep your eyes open though. Monday I’ll have a talk with Clarice about it, and Birwan and April Tuesday. Follow all the security rules to the letter.”

“Right. Can I go now? I’ll want to look over the common room to make sure everything’s in order.”

He nodded and said, “See you Monday.”

When I got back to the warren, I closed the entry door and put the pile of manuscripts on my desk. I looked over the common room in desultory fashion, then went into my office and made a careful note of all the manuscripts she had lifted. I checked to make sure they had been scanned in, looked through them to make sure they were intact, and made some marks in my notebook. I transferred the scans to my personal drive and took the manuscripts to the innermost carrel, where I slid them under the drawers of the desk and pushed a few scraps in their way. I then went back to my office, locked up, and went home.

At dinner I was silent as Trevor and Anne talked bugs and Finley sat gritting his teeth with his hands covered in calamine lotion. Trevor and Anne glanced at me curiously from time to time until I glared angrily at them. At six, I went back to wash pans and finished in record time. When I got back to the suite, Trevor said, “I’m hiking around tonight. I know you don’t do it any more, but I’d appreciate it if you made an exception tonight.”

“I’d love to.”

He smiled and said, “Excellent.”

“Ready now?”

“Always ready for a good walk, Hugh, you know that.”

We walked to campus and down to the river. We turned upstream and after half an hour reached a bench set up on the bank facing a small meadow. Trevor said, “I think we’ll have complete privacy here. Anne told me something happened with Ingrid today.”

“She tried to steal some manuscripts from the library.”


I told him what I had heard and seen and he sat there in utter silence with an unreadable expression. Soon he said, “That’s not what she told Anne.”

“And just what did she say?”

“She just said you had a silly fight over a stupid misunderstanding.”

“We had a fight, yes. That much is perfectly accurate.”

We sat there quietly for a few minutes, and he said, “I’m sorry, Hugh, really sorry.”

After a pause I just said, “Thank you.”

After a couple minutes’ silence I added, “I just don’t get it. Was she using me from the beginning? She seemed so sincere. She was perfect. I still can’t believe it.”

“She seemed perfectly genuine when I met her with Anne the first couple of times. I still can’t see her just coldly using you. It must be something else.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, but Hugh, think more highly of yourself. Probably she was interested in the manuscripts, yes, but liked you too. You can think two things are perfectly compatible that will just blow up in your face later. Maybe she just figured her plan was coming up clover with gravy on top.” I chuckled and he continued, “Umm, okay, lousy turn of phrase, but you know what I mean. Even if she did have ulterior motives, that doesn’t mean she didn’t genuinely like you. Maybe she thought they could be reconciled, you know, slowly get you as interested in the manuscripts as she was, and then you’d automatically cooperate with her. That often happens, you know, and it’s not a bad thing in itself. Someone meets someone else for a particular reason but falls for them, and they become partners in a grand task.”

As we walked back to campus, he seemed uncommonly abstracted, and then asked, “So you think the town library was behind it?”

“That’s the only thing makes sense, though Cornelius has a bee in his bonnet that it’s something else. Something mysterious. This place makes everyone crazy, you now.”

“Well, yes, it sounded like the library was trying to steal your thunder. What was it she said again?”

I told him again, and he nodded. “That’s it, word for word?”

I retorted, “What are you, a policeman?”

“Ah, jeez, Hugh, it’s just so damned strange. I’m trying to make sense of it.”

We didn’t speak again until we reached the dorm. Trevor said, “I need to talk to Anne about it. She might be able to shed some light on what was running through Ingrid’s head.”

I went to bed but did not sleep; three hours later I heard Trevor let himself into his room quietly, and I lay there as my brain twisted itself in circles replaying the day’s events from every angle I could see; about five I fell asleep and woke up in time for the end of lunch. As I walked through the line, Anne and Trevor noticed me from behind the counter and wished me a good day. After their shift ended, they came out and sat down with me. Anne said, “I’m so sorry, Hugh. That was so unlike the Ingrid I knew, I don’t know what to say.”

I replied, “Library thieves. Quite a crowd I’ve fallen in with,” and they chuckled sadly.

Anne looked at Trevor and said, “Yes, it’s a damned shame she’s fallen in with such a crowd.”

He nodded but said nothing, but as I left the table I heard him mutter, “Well, we know now.”

“Pretty much,” she agreed. They looked up at me and smiled, and Anne said, “You’re better without her.”

I just looked at her and turned away. As I walked off, I heard Trevor say, “What could she have seen in those manuscripts to do that?”

“Oh, don’t ask me, I see the beauty in bugs.”

For the next couple of days I went through the weekend routine in a quiet stupor, distracting myself as Trevor had intended with a couple of light hikes to some of our older haunts. Monday evening as I washed pots and pans I began to grieve, which helped, somewhat.

About three weeks later I was walking across campus and saw Ingrid watching me. She hesitated and finally waved me down. She came up to me and said, “Hugh.”


“Are you doing well?”

I said nothing. She examined my face and said, “I hope you’re doing well. I hope you’re doing very badly too.”

“How could you do that to me?”

“Could you forgive me?”

“I can’t trust you. You used me.”

“No. Yes, at the end, it was just a stupid bit of insanity, but no, Hugh.”

“I should have asked myself why you started things so quickly with me.”

“Hugh, please, don’t say that. You really hurt me. I’ve been smashed up since then. It was so wonderful, so sweet before, couldn’t you work with me and put it behind us?”

I was seized by vivid memories of long conversations, her sweet personality, and being enveloped by her body as it tensed against mine and I nearly said yes, but the doubts poisoning all my memories of her undercut any resolve, and after a minute she said, “That’s no then. I loved you, but it’s gone now. Be well. Or die in pain. It’s all the same to me.” She put a hand to her eyes and walked away. I stood looking after and through her as the blue ribbon in her hair became indistinct and lost to sight, idly noting shadows pass across the grass of the green as I contemplated the nothing she had left behind her with me.

Strangecraft, Part III—The Twisty Innards of Leviathan—Mikael Thompson
Strangecraft, Part V—The Highest Time of Living—Mikael Thompson
SpecGram Vol CLXX, No ν Contents