Strangecraft, Part V—The Highest Time of Living—Mikael Thompson SpecGram Vol CLXX, No ν Contents Strangecraft, Part VII—Ces Petits Corps Qui Tombent de Travers—Mikael Thompson


by Mikael Thompson

- VI -
Much Ado About Shoggoths

Our fourth semester started much as our second had; after our respective returns to campus after winter break, we quickly settled into our old routine and spent the time that remained before the start of classes to read and work ahead. Trevor was scheduled to take courses on quantum field theory and classical category theory and a seminar on frontiers of research in non-equilibrium thermodynamics besides his fourth semester of Russian, while Finley had been inspired by Matthews’ course on New England folklore not only to apply for his research project and to sign up for courses in Algonquian folktales and Iroquoian traditional culture, but even to embark on a reading course in Cree, all three courses offered by the anthropology department. “Finn,” I asked him upon hearing the last, “are you sure you want to do that? Graduate reading courses in any language are not your usual language courses, and if it’s a language like Cree, you might drown very quickly. They’re intended for linguists and anthropologists, not...normal healthy people or...folklorists.”

“What’s so hard about Cree?”

“It’s very different from what an English speaker’d expect a language to be like.”

“What could be so hard about that? So they have a different word for everything. Big deal.”

“And a different way of cutting up the universe and analyzing actions and mapping them to grammatical categories, and vastly different ways of expressing those categories. Finn, American linguists take classes like that precisely to get exposure to a wide variety of phenomena entirely different from their native languages.”

“So you’ve studied it then. You can help me.”

“No, I studied Seri.”

“So it’s an Indian language too, so that’ll be fine.”

“No, it wouldn’t be fine, Finn. First, they’re American languages. Indian languages are spoken in India. Second, Seri is completely different again. It’s as different from Cree as English is from...Chinese. More different, really.”

“But you know enough to know that.”

I sighed, “Yes, I studied a little Blackfoot for a class once. It’s closely related to Cree.”

“So you can help me.”

“Oh, what the hell. I can always use another language. Builds character.”

Trevor grinned, “And it’ll be fun, right?”

“Fun like bugs.”

“Spoken like a true entomologist, or is it etymologist? Well, in this case the distinction makes no difference.”

Helen had been listening in and laughed at that. “When’s Anne getting back anyway?”

Trevor pondered for a second and replied, “I think she said she’s getting back the day before classes start.”

“Where’d she go?”

“Hugh and me hiking everywhere inspired her to go on a cross-country ski trip up in Vermont and New Hampshire.”

Helen shivered dramatically. “I’m a tropical girl myself.”

Trevor chuckled, “A tropical girl from Ohio. I’d think you’d be somewhat habituated to it by now.”

“I can stand the cold, but I would never knowingly place myself in a spot even colder than here with nothing but snow and my skis for miles around.”

I said, “And bears. Don’t forget the bears,” and then grimaced for fear Finley would start butchering Korean culture, but instead he snickered and said, “Oh man, that reminds me of Big Chunk. I should get a hamster.”

“Hamsters are cat food here, Finn. That would be animal cruelty, pure and simple.”

Trevor chuckled again, “I don’t know how much hamsters dream, but I imagine it would be animal cruelty even before the cats got in.”

Helen had finished her first semester with straight A’s and had signed up for the usual run of second-semester ling grad work with an emphasis on semantics; while I could discuss her readings with her as something of an equal in two classes, she was on her own for the other two, though out of curiosity I was eager to follow along behind her in her course on contemporary philosophical semantics. As she was afraid of being swamped, she imposed three evenings of study in isolation each week and expected to keep at least every other Sunday to herself, a schedule I had enough trepidation of my own to readily agree to.

For, as with the semester before, I had a full work schedule that was barely manageable by taking only three classes (seminars in sociolinguistics and phonological theory and the second semester of Gilbreath’s independent study) and reading ahead with the compulsion of a man condemned to death if he did not solve a thorny logic problem by dawn. I returned to work the day after our return from Boston and continued culling manuscripts from the piles for scanning, cataloguing, storage, and independent study. While I had no idea what in the manuscripts might be the object of such obsession for so many parties, I was determined to figure it out and counted this work to myself as my fourth class, a course of truly independent study in advanced philology. In addition to the manuscripts that had caught my interest, I had found two old published chronicles and a battered local almanac centuries old that held hints of various aspects of long-forgotten battles in the dark between adherents of obscure sects that Christian theologians would not recognize, and slowly pieced together the lineaments of quasi-scholarly traditions and traditional quasi-scholarship organized to wrest control of uncommon natural forces from...well, from whatever, if anything, controlled them with barely discernible malign designs on humanity. And perhaps there truly was nothing there and all I discerned through their eyes was coincidence filtered through insanity, but if so it was an intoxicating illusion that beckoned to it many over-observant indoctrinated minds, however addled, which as such made it a suitable object of scholarly investigation.

At root the techniques had been honed nearly to perfection back in the 19th century; while there weren’t family trees for each manuscript to which cladistics could be applied, there was a manuscript tradition in which later writers built on what they knew from their earlier reading and the dispersive effects of the milieu in which they swam. As stories and names garbled over the centuries, one could devise a forest of the trees for each detail, incidence, and name, a forest that I came to see as showing old growth, new growth, and die-off over the centuries. This too was familiar to my intellectual forebears of the 19th and 20th centuries, and threatened to become a hermetic system indissolubly melded with the system of ideas I was working to tease out.

I was able to work my way back to the early 19th century from the materials at hand, filling in details here and there of murders, unions, and glimpses of teachings and doings as I worked through the piles. Earlier than that, though, say about 1820, the trails faded away. Generally speaking, my basic stock consisted of any number of bound piles of foolscap of very variable quality and reliability containing one or more words in which I took an interest. Some were mere scrapings off the street with “shoggoth,” a word that immediately caught my attention, as a term of abuse for certain landed intereststhough that in itself was a point of interest. Others mentioned family folklore about shoggoths or gave advice on avoiding them when hunting. A great number had been collected by the same three men whose personal manuscripts held the most promise for satisfying and advancing my interests; these latter were reminiscences of odd events combined with chronicles of local weirdness, catastrophes, and minor triumphs of the past (closely referenced to manuscripts mentioned above, and to other older manuscripts yet to be found) by Jedediah Pickett, Frederic Winslow, and Arnold Turner, three Harvard men with deeply obsessive antiquarian bents and a taste for antediluvian turns of phrase who either taught at or served as trustees for Dunford Boys School; the manuscripts were dated as entering Dunford miscellaneous holdings between 1842 and 1865 but clearly dated from a decade or two earlier: The main body of Turner’s was signed and dated 17 July 1835, for example, with undated additions until his death in 1849.

My three local divines had been inspired by the wordy predecessors of Emerson and his ilk to go into the wilderness close at hand to seek the words of their ancestors (and of others they gave thanks were not) as part of their infatuation with Naturphilosophie and Teutonic verbal flatulence, and from what I read they themselves had soon despaired, for regardless of Herder’s optimistic view of humanity that they had imbibed at their desks, there was no noble contribution to the collective works of humanity to be found from the hands of any of these lowly dwellers on the fetid New England soil. And yet as they despaired they persevered, and as they persevered they further despaired, and after toiling in the wilds for ten or fifteen years they discovered to their dismay that such early postdoctoral work was as fruitless as much of that perpetrated by generations of their epigones, and finding their scholarly careers cut down in their primes nursed their collected manuscripts like widows’ mites, to be disposed of after their deaths by bequeath to the boys’ school.

Their personal manuscripts were extensive monographs that had been intended for publication as books, but somehow their publication had failed (Turner) or had been deemed untimely (Winslow) or improper (Pickett). Given their compendious, indeed promiscuous collection of every dark and obscure event west of Worcester and north of Springfield from the 1640s until the 1720s, seemingly unselective but for a rigorous evaluation of most every scrap, it was clear that their value for local colonial history did not suffice to take the taint of backwoods superstitions and old widows’ tales off them. I had little luck trying to find all their sources: Surely their collections stretched back much further than the 1820s, but even with assiduous search I had found no traces of such older bones in the holdings of the rabbit warren. Most likely, I concluded, they had been removed thence by earlier toilers in the mess, but I still had a few piles to explore.

In lieu of sources much closer to the time when many of the events related had occurred, I concentrated on the internal evidence. The odd words that caught my eye, especially “shoggoth,” were concentrated in parts covering the period until about 1736, or at least that was the latest securely datable from statements or evidence of the authors. Various turns of phrase and occasional references of each to another made it clear the three were closely acquainted and did not write their works entirely separate from each other, but there was deep down things an imprecision, a reluctance to give all one might wish of a story, a cagey refusal to fill in what it meant, say, to “read a shoggoth,” “bid it summons,” or “shield one’s silent whispers.” More than that, while I could devise a tree for a given detail, occasion, or name from the commentaries of each of the divines separately, the forest for each was incompatible with those of his fellows. This puzzled me mightily and struggled for supremacy with the joys of Manæhill throughout the semester. Lurking amid the roots of each forest there seemed to be a shadowy trio of intrepid Puritan journeyers into the dark some time in the mid- to late 17th century who had done great battle with the shadows and learned much of the secrets therein, and had been so kind as to write down all they knew in a crabbed and cryptic Latin mixed with odd infusions of what I determined in the quotes of their chroniclers to be Massachusett, Narraganset, and similar Algonquian forms not traceable to a particular language, as well as other words, phrases, and turns of speech truly alienthough perhaps merely Iroquoian. As I persisted, I blessed the day Finley had prevailed upon me to help him with Cree, for it seemed that I was nearing a breakthrough.

Finley, alas, probably damned that same day and rather seemed close to a breakdown even on our first day. “So awa means ‘this,’ right?”

“Yes, Finn, I told you that already.”

“Then why did you say ōma means ‘this’?”

“Because that’s what it means. They’re different genders, Finn. I told you that you have to worry about gender.”

“So, ‘canoe’ is feminine and ‘wharf’ is masculine...” He giggled, “Yeah, I’ll bet ‘canoe’ is feminine.”

I sighed. “Finn, ‘canoe’ is inanimate while ‘wharf’ is animate. Cree doesn’t have gender by biological sex, not even for pronouns for people.”

“That makes no sense. Wharves are just as dead as canoes.”

“It’s purely conventional, Finn. Living beings are animate, but non-living beings can be either. It depends on folklore actually, at least in part.”

He brightened, “Really?”

“At least in part, and probably true for the other nouns but the stories have been lost. See, if something is, well, magical in a story or has great power, it would usually be made animate, and this stuck in the language for some nouns. —So, let’s practice this. ‘This wharf.’ ”

“So, which ‘this’ is animate again?”

“It’s awa.

“So, awa āšokwan.

“Right. And ‘this canoe’?”

“Umm, awa čīmān.

“Inanimate, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” After many seconds he said, “Ōma čīmān.

“Good! You didn’t even look at your notes.”

This brightened his countenance for a minute, but then he encountered the locative case, and before he had fully digested this new wrinkle the obviative reared its head and even something as simple as person marking on intransitive verbs threatened to derail his progress entirely. When he learned that the obviative was marked as a different third person on the verb he dropped his head to the table and moaned, and I said, “Just keep working at it. It feels like it’ll kill you, but you can master it, Finn. You just have to think about it, and think and think and think and practice like hell everything you think about until it’s second nature.”

“But why can’t they break down all this grammar for us in nice bite-sized chunks? Why couldn’t we have just stuck with pronunciation the first week instead of being given one hour of pronunciation and two pages of homework with nothing but a three-page handout with...glasses?”

“Glosses, Finn, glosses. It’s a reading course for grad students, remember? It’s second nature for the people they expect to take the class.” He groaned again, and so marked the beginning of his struggle with a language he found hard to love but never again was tempted into underestimating.

Looking on and up at times from a textbook at his desk, at the end Trevor came out of his room, shook his head and said, “That sounds like a real wringer of a language. To think I once rued the day I agreed to study Russian.”

“It’s very different, yeah. Quite an adventure.”

“You’re enjoying it, aren’t you?”

“Yes, actually, I am.”

“I guess someone in this suite has to. I don’t think it’ll be Finley.”

Finley groaned and said, “How can people speak like that? How can they keep their verbs straight? It’s just crazy.”

“You’ll be able to too some day if you just keep at it, Finn.”

“Well, it is worth it, I think, doesn’t feel like it right now.”

“Anyway,” I said, “it’s time for lunch soon.”

Trevor said, “Oh, so it is. I need to go to work.”

“What’s lunch today?”

“Something organic, more than which no man now alive knows the secret.”

This off-the-cuff remark described my feelings often as I pondered the manuscript traditions I had drawn for myself during the next month; the thrill of discovery, genuine discovery of what time had buried rather than a mere recapitulation of the steps of my teachers, drove me on as much as the desire to understand the stench of insanity and stains of violence permeating my surroundings. It was an excitement simmering inside me to drive me forward that permeates all my memories of that time, and I could share it with no one, not even Helen, which was a source of some small feelings of guilt on the whale-oil-lit evenings she and I sat together reading.

She spoke little of her intellectual doings as well. On occasion she would ask me if her summary of a paper she had read was on the mark, or draw me out to clarify a point or grasp the point of data offered in the particularly muddled papers that seemed to have the most influence on New England linguists, but otherwise she kept her own counsel as I kept mine and seemed to view my companionship instead as a respite from work, and whatever excitement we felt for our work easily gave way to other simmering excitements in our times together.

During the second week of February, Trevor said to me one morning as we left breakfast, “You’re looking increasingly haunted by your reading, Hugh. I know I feel as if I’ve been in the water too long. Do you think you could stand to get away for a hike Sunday? I was planning to go to the outcroppings to stretch my legs. It’s still cold out, but the fresh air should do us both good.”

“Yeah, I can manage it. It’ll give me a chance to think about something besides my coursework.”

“Let’s leave, oh, say, nine?”

“Sure, if Helen won’t mind.”

Sunday morning I woke up at eight and bid Helen a warm farewell and was ready to leave by the appointed time. The sky was clear and the cold biting, but our quick pace soon warmed me to a sweat. It was a couple of hours after sunrise, and in the slanting light of the sun the stark branches stood out light gray against the blue sky and dark gray when backed by snow. Thin clouds scudded past above us, and I said, “A shining day, Trev.”

“Yes, things will be very clear today.”

When we reached the outcroppings, Trevor pointed to a saddle point between two peaks and said, “Up there. I found something very interesting a few weeks ago.” I climbed up ahead of him and found the entrance to a cave there. I glanced back at him and went inside. The cave was fairly small, about 15 feet deep, and when I turned around Trevor stood a yard inside the entrance with a gun pointed at my chest. “Who are you, Hugh? Who do you work for?”

Some men are well-trained at disarming a person from across the room. I’m not one of them, so I asked, “What do you mean?” while I pondered who he might be.

“You’ve been stealing manuscripts from the library and dispatching them somewhere. There were 72 of them in the back wall of your closet before winter break, but they were all gone by the beginning of January and there are 31 others there now. Who sent you here to get the manuscripts?”

I thought for a second and figured that if I did tell, my chances were half and half, but silence would be a sure ticket to a long stay underground. In any case, if he weren’t one of our agents, he would have much less compunction about not allowing a spy in his homeland to live, and the fact that the manuscripts had not disappeared from my closet in turn pointed to...I wasn’t sure what, but at least suggested I had a chance to see later days, so I took a deep breath and said, “The Texas Institute for Technological Innovation.”

“Prove it.”

I took another breath and thought furiously to make sure each word was in place and said,

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
I was not heardI saw them not...

He nodded and replied,

So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
There go the ships: there is that Leviathan, whom Thou hast made to play therein.

I responded,

Crongon walo wide; cwoman woldagas.
Swylt eall fornom secgrofra wera,
wurdon hyre wigsteall. Betend crungon
hergas to hrusan. Forþon þas hofu dreorgiað,
ond þæs teaforgeapa tigelum sceadeð,
hrostbeages rof.

Trevor said, “So that’s what it sounded like.”

“More or less,” I said, and he continued,

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

I nodded and finished,

Оттого, что по всем дорогам,
Оттого, что ко всем порогам
Приближалась медленно тень,
Ветер рвал со стены афиши,
Дым плясал вприсядку на крыше
И кладбищем пахла сирень...
Словно в зеркале страшной ночи,
И беснуется и не хочет
Узнавать себя человек, —
А по набережной легендарной
Приближался не календарный —
Настоящий Двадцатый Век.

Trevor said, “Okay, I’ll accept that provisionally.”


“Someone might have been tortured.”

“Fair enough. Is that last the reason you studied Russian?”

“Partly. I hate memorizing meaningless words. What is your assignment?”

“When they got word the library would be reopened, they sent me here. At the least I was to get the content of all the manuscripts I could containing certain keywords, and if possible get them out of the hands of the library and into ours. Either level the playing field or tip it to our advantage as seemed feasible.”

He nodded, “Yes, that’s standard procedure. I estimate there are at least half a dozen other deep informants like you on campus somewhere or other.”

“Who do you work for, Trev?”

“A highly connected informal group you’ve not heard of.”

“Highly connected with Texas or Mexico?”


“What are you doing here?”

“I can’t tell you more, but I’m in just the lab I was expected to join.”

“How long have you suspected me?”

“I had open questions about you from the first day. A Texan here to study linguistics? Okay, your story could have been true, for it was certainly lame enough to be believable, but when you signed up for the library for chipmunk wages, that suggested you need very close attention paid to you.”

“Is Anne...?”


“Is that why you introduced me to Ingrid?”

“Ingrid was someone Anne strongly suspected of being on the other side, and when your library work came up she showed rather more interest than collegiality would suggest. Whether she was using you or contacting a fellow agent is what we had to figure out. We were pretty sure you weren’t part of her group, but we couldn’t let the doubts lie. Even after your fight we couldn’t be 100% sure because that could just have been a ruse. And when I discovered manuscripts I had found in your room had disappeared a month or so later, it was time for action.”

“Who is the other side?”

“There is no one other side. There’s any number of shady groups trying to get their hands on information in those manuscripts. They aren’t organized as a single front, which makes them more dangerous, and they don’t even share the same ideas or ideals, just the same general set of goals.”

“Which are?”

“To reawaken the Old Ones.”

“Who are?”

“Mythical ancient beings who came here many millions of years ago and ruled the earth until something happened, who knows what, to cause them to sleep under the oceans in unending dreams of the many great works of knowledge and power they once possessed.”

“And they seek to wake them? To what end?”

“That is where they differ. Some are wedded to chaos, some worship power. A few self-satisfied morons believe they could actually take control of the Old Ones. Still others see the Old Ones as holding eternal truth, and by awakening them they may be led to transcend their physical selves.”

“Like Ingrid.”

“She’s one of those?”

“I think so.”

“That fits.”

“So is anyone actually worried they’ll wake the Old Ones?”

“No, that’s just old widows’ tales, but they still pose a threat.”


“What do you know about shoggoths, Hugh?”

“That that’s the keyword at the top of the list of words in red ink I’m to keep my eyes out for. They’re creatures the biologists are very interested in. That’s about all I was told.”

“They’re very interesting creatures, yes. Complete protoplasmic fluidity, exceedingly long-lived, probably asexual in reproduction, and apparently possessed of superhuman intelligence. They can be found throughout the world, often at the bottoms of deep lakes or in mountain fastnesses. Their biochemistry is largely unstudied, but what has been learned has already had vast ramifications in industry.”

“And no doubt their biochemistry entails interesting aspects of far-from-equilibrium chemical reaction cycles,” I ventured.

He smiled. “Indeed.”

“And so the establishment in Texas wants that knowledge in their hands, not anyone else’s.”

“Not anyone’s in New England. This place is infested with all sorts of dangerous groups whose aims are very obscure. On the most basic level it’s a fight for self-preservation, Hugh.”

“So what do shoggoths have to do with the Old Ones?”

“In their mythology, the Old Ones created shoggoths as intelligent machines to serve as the basis of their society. Supposedly they controlled them by thought. Some groups seem to think that awakening the Old Ones must be mediated by shoggoths, so they’re seeking clues to control them, clues gleaned from folklore, dark hints, and forgotten manuscripts. Others eschew that as misguided and aim straight at awakening the Old Ones themselves, or at least communicating directly with them, again relying on clues gleaned from all the forgotten nooks of this forsaken corner of the earth.”

I replied, “And our side aims to get control of the shoggoths first.”

“Ultimately, yes, if such is actually possible, and failing that, to keep them out of anyone else’s hands.”

“What is Anne’s assignment?”

“I can’t tell you that, Hugh. You know all you need to know.”

“So, you’re trained as a spy?”

“I’m an industrial agent by training, but that’s essentially correct.”

“Is that why you seem to be able to control your involvement in communal dreaming?”

He smiled, “Thank goodness, yes. I was exposed to it before puberty. That makes it much easier to control. And I was trained to control the other aspects of communal dreaming from a young age.”

“So how were you recruited then? Is it family revanchism?”

He smiled, “No, that would make me an obvious spy. It was much less direct. I had a friend in Iowa whose uncle was associated with our side. Consultant, really, nothing important, but he was involved in something that drew attention by accident. He was assassinated. When I heard about it, I was as angry as only a young child can be, and one of my teachers was a recruiter.”

“I see. And the reason you attract and pursue women so much is that you’re actually interrogating every woman in the dorm?”

“I do like to combine business with pleasure, Hugh. —What about you? How were you recruited?”

“Oh, I answered a help-wanted ad on a telephone pole.” He laughed and I continued, “A professor recruited me my sophomore year. At first I simply did office work in my hours outside of class as they decided I was reliable, then when this mission opened up, they made it so I had had a small endowment since a month after I was born that was to be used for tuition and a decent stipend. Nothing noteworthy, just enough to make sure I could sink into my place without drawing attention to myself as either too poor or too rich. Not too well-informed, either.”

He nodded, “The usual.”

“Tell me, what about Finley?”

“He’s just a babe in the woods. Near as I can tell, neither side is connected to him, nor would either side care to be. Would you want to be? Nicest guy in the world, but he’d be completely useless as an agent of any sort. —Now you tell me, what about Helen?”

“I’ve never gotten the impression she’s anything more than she says.”

“You’ve never tried to find out?”

“How would I know how to find that out? That’s not my job. While I’m here, I’m to keep my head down and my nose clean.” He nodded and I asked, “What do you think of her?”

“I have the strong impression she’s not as straightforward as she lets on. Watch yourself around her.”

“That’ll be kind of hard, Trevor.”

“You’ve said nothing to her about the manuscripts, or shoggoths, or anything like that?”

“Of course not. All she knows is I handle manuscripts, and she thinks I find it rather dull, which to be fair it is most of the time.”

“Okay. May I ask how far along you are?”

“I’m probably two-thirds done.”


“And sorry, but I don’t want to get slaughtered if you get tortured, me or anyone else.”

“That probably won’t happen, Hugh. Torture simply sends me to the valley of love and delight. It’s another benefit of early exposure to communal dreaming.”

“So you say, but I’ll keep my own counsel.”

“Good man. Any more questions? We should discuss them now. Not a word of this elsewhere, understood?”

“Is this the reason you hike everywhere?”

“In part, yes. You know the area around here nearly as well as I do. For about 10 miles around the Institute, the woods are empty of traces of the other side. Once you get past the outcroppings and the line of hills to the west, the forest is their territory.”

“So you saw signs of them in Fenton?”

“A few. Fenton’s too much of a hiking attraction for them to keep secret there, but they keep an eye on it. What’s important is that means we mostly have to worry about their agents in our own midst.”

“Do you think the Pursleyville town library is one of their strongholds?”

“No. I think it’s a third-rate dungheap infiltrated by agents of at least one group of our opponents. What you report Ingrid saying fits with that well enough. They have a couple of people in positions of authority, but they can’t have enough power there to dare tip their hand at all. Remember, we don’t have an organized opposition; we’re not that widely organized either, for that matter. They’re motley and opportunistic. So are we, as you might suspect.”

“What about the scratchings in Fenton?”

“Mostly hobo code, but the other side uses it too in the places hobos are likely not to go. Especially in places marked in regular hobo code at the doors as not friendly to hobos.”

“You can read it?”

“Oh yes, for the most part.”

“So why do you keep discussing it with Smith and Jones?”

“To sound much more in the dark than I really am while I gauge everyone else’s reactions. Besides, as an abstract problem it’s fascinating, really.”

“Why don’t they infest our woods as well?”

“Good question. I’m not sure, but probably it’s a lack of sufficient cover. The region inside the subsidence bowl is sparsely overgrown, as you know. The soil seems to have been exhausted as a result of the Subsidence and hasn’t recovered even after all this time. They probably skulk around our woods a bit at times, but they’d stick out if they came inside the Lip in any great numbers. Besides, they have confederates where it counts.”

“So do you have any idea how the subsidence bowl was formed?”

“From what I’ve seen and read of other areas hit hard in the Subsidence, the process started with a wave spreading out from the epicenter that must have done something to prepare the soil for the next stage, which was a massive subterranean hollowing out that would leave a vast crater a hundred meters deep or more.”

“How would that work?”

“Hell if I know, Hugh. Simple conservation of mass rules it out just disappearing. There would have to be some place for the displaced soil to be pushed into, but geologically it makes little sense, and not just geologically. You’d have to have the soil suddenly suspended, you might say, like a slurry of some unknown variety, some sort of fluid that would just push aside and deposit out at the edge of the wave. That seems to have been the nature of the first subsidence waveit prepared the soil to be pushed aside, it slurried the soil, as we call it, in preparation for the major stage of gullying. It would require incredible amounts of energy to move that much mass as well, but energy whose flow is so closely controlled that you’d have soil slurrying without tearing down houses at the edge of the wave.”

“Or allow subway tunnels just to sink.”

“Yes, Boston is strange in many different ways.”

“Is there anyone I need to watch out for particularly?”


“I said particularly.

“And I answered your question.”

“I see.”

“Any more questions?”

“Not at the moment.”

“We should be getting back. Anne knows that if you come back with me you’ll know she’s an agent, so there’s no need to go out of your way to discuss it with her. Think of her as your boss and me as a different section head and you should do fine. If you have to discuss our work, we can go to the bank on the bench; it’s the only place near campus I feel safe enough to discuss it.”

As we walked back, he pointed out features of the landscape that I had not even thought about enough to be puzzled by before he explained what probably happened to create them. When we got back to the dorm, we returned to reading in our common room with Finley as if nothing had changed.

When I got to breakfast two days later, Helen blushed on seeing me; I bowed and smiled. When I sat down she asked, “So who will redden your pretty face this morning?”

“No one.”

“Ooh, then we’ll have a very nice night tonight.”

“Better than last night, I’m sure.”

“Oh, another bad dream?”



“No, something rather larger. They served it for dinner a few weeks ago and it’s coming for revenge.”

“I hate this place.”

Finley came in just then and blushed in concert with Felicia. “Good morning,” he said, and she nodded brusquely, “Get me some coffee.”

“Least I could do.”

“Damn right it is, Finn.”

Judy chuckled and then laughed out loud when Felicia glared bloody maiming at her. Felicia had settled down somewhat by the time Finley returned, however, and asked him sweetly, “What are show-gots, Finn? You were mumbling them a lot in our dream.”

I caught Trevor and Anne glance hurriedly at each other as Judy said, “At least he mumbled, Tiger,” and then they looked at me with a short warning stare, and I faced Finley with no obvious interest as he said, “Oh, it’s something I’m writing a paper on for my Algonquian folklore class. See, they’re these mythical creatures up in Canuckistan and Québec, and probably all across Alaska and old Canada. They live in the bottoms of lakes, and you know how many lakes there are north of the border. They often catch canoes and sometimes they come out of the lakes and eat Crees who’ve been too nosy. They’re called šōkwaht in Cree, actually.”

“Your preaspiration’s getting pretty good there, Finn,” I merely said despite my unease.

“Thanks for the help. It’s not easy.”

“At least besides the preaspiration Cree pronunciation isn’t hard for English speakers.”

“Yeah, I wish anything else in Cree was that easy.”

“The pronunciation?”

“The preaspiration. Least of my troubles.”

“Good for you. You don’t even call it ‘perspiration’ any more.”

Trevor asked, “Your English is improving. Is your Cree?”

We laughed and I said, “He’s making progress. Eventually transitivity will be second nature and there’ll be no stopping him.”

Finley shook his head, “I’ll never get transitivity.”

“You get it automatically in English,” I said, “so of course you can do it in Cree. You just need to work at it some more. Switching from intransitive to transitive stems and back will be automatic. It’s just that it’s combined with animacy. That’s not easy for any English speaker to automatize.”

“It gives me a headache.”

“That means you’re working hard. It’s a good sign.”

Finley shook his head and asked, “Hugh, tell me, you’re studying it on the side, aren’t you?”

“No, I don’t have time for that. Why?”

“So you really just look at the texts and you know from the glosses what’s what?”

“It’s my job, Finn. Just like that time Helen helped you, remember?”

“Yes. That was impressive.”

“Yes, she’s even better than me. I’d like to see her in field methods.”

Helen laughed, “You’re making me blush again, Hugh.”

“My cunning plan proceeds apace.”

She whispered in my ear and I blushed in turn. Judy laughed, “Good save, girl.”

I took another sip of coffee and said, “I should get going, love.”

“So soon?” she asked.

“Yes, I have to run some errands before class.” I held up a couple of letters and a form from the registrar and addressed the table, “Ciao, all.”

Around that time I had received a short letter from Pamela telling me their new address in New Haven and inviting me to visit some time over the summer. “It’s a wholesome enough place compared to Boston, with only civilized dress codes and mostly happy dreams,” Pamela wrote. “It’s duller than Boston, thank you kindly, and a person can walk down the street after dark without too much fear,” and she ended the letter by writing simply and meaningfully, “Veronica has started painting again.” I wrote back setting a time in mid-July for my visit and a couple of weeks later received a reply giving the best prospective dates; I settled on arriving the 19th and staying for a week.

Thursday two weeks later I had exhausted all the obvious leads in reconciling the variant accounts in my manuscripts and grew edgy and frustrated when I allowed myself to think about the problem. By that point in the semester our extracurricular schedule had congealed such that Helen spent Tuesdays in my suite and I spent Thursdays in hers, with most Saturdays away in Pursleyville. As the four of us sat there in companionable silence in the flickering light of the whale oil lamp, I found myself unable to read the specifications of the ball bearings easing the turning of the latest wheels within the wheels within the wheels of the latest set of epicycles added to standard New England phonological theory to explain variant tone-aspiration interactions in a long-dead Papuan language some toiler in the dark had found in the never-ending search for old data to newly appropriate and reinvigorate like Frankenstein under his own name rather than the name of the scholar who had actually recorded it. Instead my mind wandered amid the shadows of the forests of the three Puritans, and as I stared at flickering shadows on the wall my mind freely associated among the disparate passels of events recorded in the commentaries and chronicles of their Transcendentalist successors. How odd, I thought suddenly, the trial of Puritan A (for it was best not to prejudge things by placing reliance on the name in the chronicle) against the bear in the cave was quite similar to David in the lions’ den, yet oddly shifted...and as I stared transfixed at the reflection of the whale oil lamp in the window, other pieces started falling into place. Of course Puritan divines would encode things biblically; it was second nature to them. Not to me, however, but I at least now knew where to look. More than that, I now had an idea where I might turn to learn their names.

Each of the divines had a different name in each of the three manuscripts, hence nine names total, though by the web of events in each recounting clearly naming only three men; how apt, how painfully apt that the Puritans seeing the Trinity in every trio would be recorded in turn by burgeoning quasi-Transcendentalists stuck on Hegelian triads (an oddity for that time), but where the Puritans had apparently turned to Milton and Bunyan for extra camouflage, their chroniclers had borrowed liberally from Schiller and Goethe, though fortunately for my sense of taste they seemed to have avoided overmuch reliance on the works of Emersonthey were a bit before his generation, after all. (Pickett at least entered college during the War of 1812, for example, which as with many of his fellows he strongly opposed, and the other two could be dated as having graduated within about five years of Pickett.) Not having misspent my youth, I am certain I missed many turns of phrase from Fichte and Schleiermacher, but echoes of Novalis and Coleridge seemed to resound here and there. I pondered the distinct and distinguishing events that seemed most prominent in the chronicles of each and wondered. And pondered and wondered, and often shook my head. Puritan A was described in Chronicler α as slaying a devilish figure on a horse with an arrow at the entrance to a side street leading to a coppersmith’s shop, and in Chronicler β as urging a small village to resist the incursions of a mounted host of demons who were slain upon the morrow by the wrath of the Almighty (“A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land, and out of the passes between the hills swept chill currents that made men shiver in the dark and lonely place,” β reported); Chronicler γ recounted no distinct events in Puritan A’s mission. The referent of β was clear even to an unwashed heathen such as myself, while α took more than a moment to crack: I played around with all the names and events for several minutes without luck until I remembered that “coppersmith” was...Kessler, reminding me and any Schillerian worth his salt that a dweller in a side street was Gessler, who was slain on a horse by an arrow of Wilhelm Tell. “Gilding the lily there, Alpha,” I thought and pondered its significance, but Isaiah Tell was not what I thought of as a likely old New England namebut perhaps that merely bespoke my relative unfamiliarity with Puritan culture.

I then contemplated the webs of clues that might (or might not) be lurking in the accounts of B and C. Chronicler α agreed with β and γ, while β recounted an event in which B secured justice by demanding a warrant of execution of a witch and traitor from a justice of the peace named Davis in circumstances not permitting the calling of a Court of Oyer and Terminer, and similarly γ alone recounted that B and C spied out witches in the later lost town of Canaan and B led a small force from a nearby town across the river to conquer it. (Chronicler γ added memorably that among them was “the daemon heroine of a particularly horrible old ballad not yet extinct near the Vermont border.”) Finally, α differed from β and γ in stating anent nothing that C was married twice, the second time to a certain Charlotte. Wracking my brains, I quickly realized that this gave the names Joshua (or Hosea) and Caleb to B and C, respectively, and then over the next hour decided that β most likely made allusion to Maria Stuart, with Mary as a witch and...would that be Dudley? no, the other one, Burleigh, as B’s other name. The other clue for C touched off faint echoes that died out without setting up stronger resonances, though the next day at the library I tracked it down as most likely encoding Edward via Die Wahlverwandtschaften.

Why such subterfuge? Neither Puritans nor Transcendentalists, for such the chroniclers vaguely were, were much given over to hidden truths to be kept from the multitudes, so what could such a break from habit have meant? Clearly they had wanted to keep something secret from the uninitiated, or at least the chroniclers had, for I of course had no idea of the nature of the missing manuscripts. And probably that was it right there: The casual reader would gain no clue to the actual authors of the manuscripts, thereby separating the English commentary from the contents hinted at, which meant that I had (presumably) gained the necessary key when I had thought I was merely scouting the terrain; while the balance of the chroniclers’ manuscripts might be worth the eventual labor, I now had a more immediate target and chance of success.

And as I surfaced from my deep plunge, I saw Helen, Chantal, and Emily all watching me closely. “Did you finally figure out the paper?” asked Chantal.

“What? Oh, sort of.”

Emily added, “You know, you’ve been staring at the window for ten minutes, just staring. I’ll bet you didn’t see a thing outside your head.”

I chuckled and said, “I warrant you’re right.”

Helen said, “You can tell me about it later. You’ve made me curious.”

“No, don’t bother asking. You’d have to read far too much background to appreciate it,” to which she nodded, being well familiar with New England ways of linguistics.

As we returned to reading, I considered what I had found, if anything. Certainly it was clever, probably too clever by much more than half. On the other hand, if the discrepancies in the manuscript traditions meant anything at all, they pointed pretty clearly at my conclusion. Or did they? I was certainly lucky the Chroniclers had such mainstream tastes, for if they had had a taste for metaphysical poetry, Camões, or the Polish Renaissance, say, then I would never have cracked their code. Or perhaps, I realized, my trio had equally outré tastes and I had either fallen into a skillful trap or manufactured a non-existent pattern from random noise and missed what I was looking for. But there was nothing for it then but to labor on and see if it paid off; if not, I had at least gotten a much better handle on my materials.

In any case, as I turned over in my head the names I had either recovered or fabricated from pixie dust, they in turn triggered a slight reminiscence, faint but recent, that I puzzled over for the rest of the night without gaining traction. The next day was a Friday, and as I wandered through the piles at work after scanning and culling the latest haul of manuscripts, I leafed through a pile I had not explored before and saw a green slip used to record transfers of materials to other facilities. I remembered the existence of one such slip that I had processed about a month and a half before, and with the clue that gave me I went to my office and searched through my scans until I found it.

Dated 27 September 2062, it was an order from the Office of the President to transfer a number of manuscript holdings to Records due to certain legal technicalities of their bequests. The greater part of the order specified manuscripts by over two dozen authors, including Isaiah Long, Joshua Cecil, and Edward Caleb. I chuckled soundlessly: tell sounded tolerably enough like tall meaning ‘long,’ and Cecil was Lord Burleigh or Burghley’s actual family name. Truth be told, though, my first thought was, “And that, Susan, is how you do philology.”

I transferred the scan to my personal drive, deleted the scan in the system, and went to retrieve the original from the files. So as not to leave a gap in the records, I replaced it with the new green slip recording the transfer of extra copies of a decade’s worth of back issues of several chemical journals to the chemistry department library back in 2087, stamped back-dated appropriately and Barbara’s initials forged. The lack of a scan would almost certainly never come to light, and if it did it would be dismissed as the oversight of a lazy student worker. Fortunately, because of the extremely low priority of our work, our scans were only transferred to other places of storage once every four months and the next transfer was scheduled a month in the future. As I cleaned up afterwards, I wondered idly who in the past had read the manuscripts, and then I wondered what other manuscripts had been spawned from them in other holdings. What effect had the chroniclers had in later days on the tiny world that cared about their learning? What little turns of phrase might be found transmuted or transmitted in other works? But that way lay a career of waste and poverty, for the life of librarians, litterateurs, and philologists is always the same, and the fate had befallen their works that they had predicted: “Who will read this my work? None, I fear, for I warrant that men of learning will suspect it little, and ignore it mostly,” in the last despairing words of Arnold Turner’s manuscript.

The problem now was how to gain access to Records. One could simply ask, but one might well be turned down and one would certainly be remembered and noted for all eternity. What was needed was some natural entry into Records, but as the administration practiced secrecy as regular policy, it was a pitch dark obscurity to me how to find such a way in. In any case, there was no rush; the manuscripts were even more secure than I had thought them to be and I could take my time casing the joint.

That evening after work I told Trevor, “I need to take a walk. Come with?”

“Where to?”

“Up river and back, I was thinking.”

“Sure, I can do that.”

We slipped out quietly and rushed to the Miskatonic, then turned upstream to the bench on the bank. After we sat down we looked around briefly to make sure no one was around, and I said quietly, “Something extra has come up in my work.”

“Why are you asking me?”

“I need to get into Records. Could be big.”

He said, “Don’t ask me. That’s not my department.”

“I just need advice. How tightly sealed off is Records? Are they lax or strict? What procedures do they have? How often do outsiders get access? What’s the best way to get in there?”

He nodded. “Okay, that sort of task I can handle. I don’t know myself, but I suspect it’s not easy to get into. You know this place. Outside central administration everything about this school is a bad joke, but the game changes once you get into the preserves of authority. My suspicion from what I’ve heard around the department is that only tenured faculty members have anything close to easy access to that part of administration, and even then they’re officious, nosy, and arbitrary. Central administration is hard to figure. They stick together, even though we’re sure they’re as riven by factions and sects as everywhere else. We don’t know how they recruit new talent, nor do we know anything much about their inner workings. We have other fish to fry anyway, so we pay them just enough attention to make sure they seem not to have noticed us. —I’ll see what I can find out, but don’t expect anything soon. Give me two weeks at least, better three.”

“That’s fine. I’d love to get in there but it can wait as long as needs be.”

He nodded. “Apart from that, how’s the work coming?”

“Almost done.”

“Have you given any thought to what you’ll do once your mission has ended?”

“Stay here and finish up. Anything else would draw attention to me.”

“True. So you’ll have a PhD in New England linguistics. Quite an accomplishment.”

I shrugged. After a moment I said, “But it’ll be in a field like sociolinguistics. There the doctrinal lines aren’t so starkly drawn.”

“How are the troubles at the library?”

“The threats? Oh, we haven’t heard anything since, at least that I’ve heard.”

“Do you think the measures the library has taken are sufficient?”

“Of course not. They’d actually need a budget to do anything besides adding more sitting targets to the front door.”

“So what measures have you taken? You have workers you’re responsible for, you know.”

I sighed. “Yes, I know. I know all the routes of exit from the library so well I could find my way in the dark.”

“Well, that’s something. Would you like some armament?”

I thought for a second. “Yes, if it’s not any trouble. Remember I shoot as well as a toddler.”

“In a week or so, look under your pillow some night when Helen’s not around; you’ll find a present. It’ll be suited to amateurs like yourself. I can only give you the basic advice everyone learns first day: Hold it at eye level with both hands and pull the trigger as you breathe out. Aim for the center of the body so you’re most likely to hit something. Don’t get fancy trying to kneecap someone; if you aim for the heart or just below you’re most likely to hit something that’s not vital, and you’re likely to hit something. You’re not trying to win a battle here, you’re trying to get away. Always remember that. Cats don’t stick around to beat the dogs, cats do whatever it takes just to get the hell out. Your mantra should always be ‘Miao.’ And only use the gun if you have no other choice. Where will you keep it?”

“Probably taped underneath a desk drawer in my office.”

“You’ve watched too many sensorvids. You’ll knock it onto the floor if you so much as twitch your knee. Besides, that’s too visible and too damn obvious. Find some place hidden where it’s resting handle up on the floor next to the wall behind permanent fixtures, preferably some place that’s not in common use, otherwise someone will find it. —How will you get it into the library?”

“I smuggle manuscripts out of the library routinely. Do you think they’ll catch anything going in?”

He grunted. “You guys must feel ever so safe and protected there. Still, don’t be careless smuggling it in. Not a trace of suspicion, remember?”

A thought occurred to me. “Why are you offering me a gun now? Is something going down?”

He thought for a few seconds. “Maybe, maybe not. I’ve been warned there’s odd activity going on. We need to be careful and particularly observant. This seemed a good opportunity to spread you the word as well. If something is going down and it involves the library, you’d want to be warned and armed. Speaking of which, how well do you know your employees?”

“Well enough to nod hello on the street.”

“Learn more about them, for your sake and theirs.”

I thought for a second. “I’ll review their files first thing.”

“Always a good start.”

“Is there some reason something would go down?”


“Some event?”

“Oh, probably. The calendar’s full of dark anniversaries. I’d expect March 15th for sure, or maybe August 20th myself, but they might be too obvious. In any case, we should be getting back.”

He stood, ending the meeting, and we walked back companionably in the dark. I asked at one point, “Hey, Trev, when we’re hiking out in the woods, are you...?”

“To the teeth.”

“And when you’re hiking alone?”

He smiled. “To the tips of my hair.”

One night a week later, as Helen was off studying on her own, I went into my room to go to bed. I felt under the pillow and bumped something cold and hard. I pulled it out slightly, then found my backpack and opened the seam in the bottom at the back. Ten seconds later the seam was closed and nothing was out of the ordinary in my room. The next day at work I waited until I was working alone and slid a small package from the bottom of my backpack into my pocket. I went into the second cubbyhole, pushed it behind the file cabinet, and made sure the bound piles of papers ready for Legal appeared unmoved.

Two weeks after that, when I returned to the suite after washing pots and pans, Trevor said, “I feel like taking a walk. Come with?”

“Come with whither?”

“To the river and thither.”

When we reached the bench on the bank, we sat and he said quietly, “Okay, I have something for you that you asked for.”


“It’s not everything, but it’ll be a big help. I should warn you straight up that it might be out of date. Ten years ago we got an agent into the admin building as a janitor. Just a short-term gig to scout everything out and pulled him straight out; he got a better job elsewhere and gave notice, see? You’re in luck; Records is on the floor he cleaned the most often. You’ll find a reasonably exact ground plan at the bottom of your bottom desk drawer along with notes on security and the best way in. It’s not easy getting into the administration building, but once you’re in you can get into Records very easily. Or at least you could a decade ago, and they don’t seem the sorts to worry about regularly upgrading their security. If you ask me, your biggest problems will be getting into the building and then finding what you’re looking for once you get into Records. And it’s that last that will get you killed, mark my words. If you don’t know exactly where to go, you’ll just fritter away all your spare time and get caught red-handed, and then all of us are in grave danger, see? So give me all the information you can about what you’re looking for, especially any filing information, and perhaps we can find something else out. Probably not, but maybe. He cleaned in Records a few times and of course he has eidetic memory, so we know what Records was like a decade ago.”

“I’m looking for some manuscripts transferred from Unbound Holdings to Records back in 2061. They were part of a group of manuscript holdings, supposedly transferred for legal reasons, all dating from before 1800, all associated with the old boys’ school. They were probably transferred precisely to get them out of the way, so I’m sure they’re very unobtrusively marked and stored. The relevant library holding numbers would be AL432, AM516, and AN112, as if that would help any.”

“You’d be surprised. Keep watching your bottom drawer; you might find an early Christmas present yet.”

When we got back to the suite, I managed to keep from rummaging around in my desk and instead slept as soundly as one could in the dorm until morning. I slipped the materials from the drawer into a notebook that I took with me to breakfast and then to class, and glanced through them as time permitted until work, when I was alone and able to give them my full attention. The map of the basement of the administration building was as precise as I could have hoped for; a schedule of security patrols ten years out of date was given as showing the pattern to expect; and Records was merely securely locked a decade before, but who knows what upgrades might have been made since then? The best way in was indicated as a side door across from a classroom building, which was about as much luck as one could hope for; at least it wasn’t on the other side facing the student building. Nonetheless, any approach was uncovered and risky, but at least this door was at the bottom of an outside stairwell, so the approach was more exposed than the entry. Of course, there were doubtless sensors there besides a camera, so some aimless loitering about was prescribed for the morning of the morrow after Helen had gone off to class.

A few mornings later, after I returned to the suite from Helen’s to prepare for breakfast, I found a small folded piece of paper at the bottom of my bottom drawer. I somehow managed not to tremble as I slipped it into a book and went outside to read under a tree. On the paper was drawn a detailed map of the inside of Records that to my puzzlement and worry tolerably matched the arrangement in my nightmare with Helen; in the second row of file cabinets from the door, the third file cabinet from the wall on the side of the row facing away from the door was indicated with a note saying “Second drawer down.” I read in my book for a few minutes and went inside to shower. When I met Helen for breakfast, we merely chuckled as Emily blushed and walked away for the usual refill of coffee, and she kissed me and said, “You seem very happy all of a sudden.”

“Figured out a problem I was working on.”

She nodded. “I did that day before yesterday. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?”

A week later, after Helen had left for her secretive rendezvous with the books, Trevor said, “I fancy a walk in the sweet night air.” As I looked up from the exercise sheet Finley was working through, he muttered “Kikayotāmahwināwāw mistik ēyāpačihtāyēk,” and I laughed, “You got the theme marker wrong again, action’s going the wrong way. You just told us we’ll hit you with a stick.”

He sighed. “Stand in line and wait your turn, these sentences are going at it full steam on me.”

I replied, “You’d have had all the endings right though if that’s what you’d meant to say,” and then told Trevor, “A walk would be lovely.”

Finley asked, “One question. The pattern sentence doesn’t make sense. It’s literally ‘using a stick,’ right, so why is it ēyāpačihtāyēk instead of ēyāpačihtāmēk?

I paused for several seconds to think and said, “Remember, āpačihtā- is one of those verbs with an implied object, so it takes the intransitive animate conjugation.”

“Hmm. I guess I remember. Okay...‘Nikayotāmahwitināwāw mistik ēyāpačihtāyān’?”

I had to think for several seconds myself and finally said, “Excellent! You’re getting pretty quick at it. Need any more help tonight, Finn?”

“I don’t think so. I’ll ask you when you get back if I do.”

When we sat down on the bench on the bank, Trevor said, “What are your plans for the Records room?”

“Nothing is possible short term,” I sighed. “The entryway is guarded too securely to waltz up there and pick the lock. Even tripping a breaker probably wouldn’t work. I’d have to do an inside job, and that would probably just get me killed. Most likely I’ll just have to hand the job over to the folks back home and let them send someone else in a year or two.”

“Don’t despair. Turns out I need in there too.”


“I was trying to find the records for some research back in the 90s. It was abandoned when the professor died. The notebooks were devilish hard to find. Finally I found a green slip.”

“Ah, yes, the mysterious factotum green slips.”

“They’re probably two rows down from your row. I’ll get you in since I have to go in myself. No rush, mind you, we have a couple of years to plan this out, but the secrets of shoggoth innards are close at hand.”


He shrugged. “I hope so.”

Soon it was April and with the prospect of future progress raised, I found that a desperate tinge to my thoughts had faded away and I was able to devote the appropriate attention to my classes just as it became inescapably necessary. Even with only three classes it was not an auspicious semester; I learned an appropriate amount but found only my independent study with Gilbreath inspired me to more than satisfactory efforts. One evening after our class he said, “Hugh, you seem to be slacking off these days. Classes are wearing on you?”

I thought for a while and said, “Yes, I guess.”

“Don’t let it bother you. It happens to most once you reach a certain point. Have you considered taking the summer off?”

“No, I want to finish my work at the library.”

He sighed, “I really think you should reconsider that job. It’s a big burden for relatively little pay.”

“I probably won’t sign on next year, but we’re close to a stopping point for me. Once we finish the cataloguing, anyone can take over. Conceivably they’ll offer me a raise and I might stay on then, but otherwise not.”

“That’s the first reasonable thing you’ve said about that job. Fair enough. —Have you given any thought to your classes next year?”

I grimaced, “No.”

He smiled. “I’m sure you’re eager to take field methods.”

“Have they decided which language it will be yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“Then I’m only eager in an abstract impersonal way.”

He chuckled. “Just keep at your work. When the semester’s over you might find your enthusiasm start to return.”

While my enthusiasm for my own coursework was tempered, I found surprising interest in helping Finley study Cree and in Helen’s semantics classes, or at least the parts she had the time to discuss with me. In part this was the typical reaction of a weary graduate student finding noncompulsory subjects more interesting than they would be otherwise, but in part, as fresh fields I had less studied, they were interesting in ways my own classes were not. And then, it seemed with surprising rapidity, classes were over and the rush of final papers washed over me. My two seminar papers were not even memorable to myself, but as they showed I had learned what I was supposed to I easily did well enough. My final work for Gilbreath was more enjoyable, but even that was a body of work I was glad to finish and put behind me.

Strangecraft, Part V—The Highest Time of Living—Mikael Thompson
Strangecraft, Part VII—Ces Petits Corps Qui Tombent de Travers—Mikael Thompson
SpecGram Vol CLXX, No ν Contents