For most of my recent life I have had one pithy epigram serve as the lodestar of my existence: read books and avoid sunlight. Being a graduate student, this been quite propitious for my condition. Like Shelley, who was also a student, I have spent a fair amount of time in decayed churches and old cemeteries trying to conjure ghosts and demons, because as I scholar, I could accomplish more with a few extra hands for writing. Well, to my surprise, one night I was successful, and I would like to share with you a brief conversation I had with a spirit from the shady vale below.
A little after midnight and under a full moon, I drew a pentagram in a local cemetery. On each point I laid the underwear of a virgin, which is preternaturally difficult to find in a university. I delivered my chant with such precision that I excelled even the ancient Greek orators in my delivery. When my spell concluded, the moon had waned to a crescent, and sitting on a tombstone was a sinewy demon with swimmy eyes and hairless pink skin.
“It worked!” I shouted. “ I’ll have my peers and students calling me Doctor Faust from now on! Spirit! What is your name?”
“Yarlotep; or, He Who Comes.”
“Blast! That’s not who I called for!”
“The hex requires the underwear of a virgin. None of these garments belong to virgins.”
“That’s absurd! I got them from the math and physics departments.” Since I was short on time and had a paper due the next morning, rather than banishing him and starting over, I tried to utilize the opportunity with a few humble requests I had thought up for this occasion.
“I want extremely large muscles, to attract all the beautiful maidens!”
“I can do that, but it will most likely attract men. The women will have to stand in line, and they might grow impatient and leave.”
“I want to marry the most beautiful woman in the world!”
“You are too late, for Helen is already dead, and she looks like any other faceless skeleton. Besides, Timon and Diogenes never stop pillorying her, and I don’t want to incur their wrath by taking her away from them.”
“I want to be the happiest man in the world!”
“Well that’s a ridiculous request,” he said. “You would first have to be the saddest man in the world in order to understand, and the saddest men always kill themselves.”
I thought for a moment before speaking. “Well, I still haven’t defended my dissertation, so I might try that before I have to go through that kind of torture.” I arched my eyebrow. “Can you write my dissertation for me?”
“No, a stronger demon must do that, like your advisor.”
“I always knew he was evil,” I grumbled. “What kind of demon are you anyways?”
“The worst kind: the kind that tells the Truth.”
“I thought those were called philosophers.”
I resumed with my requests. “I would like to make everyone read Hegel.”
“There’s not enough time for that.”
“I want to write a book of great literature!”
“Plato has already done this, as well as Nietzsche, Dante, Petrarch, Homer, Virgil, Goethe, and Kierkegaard, to name just a few.” He shrugged. “There are no more great works of literature to be written.”
“Very well, I would like to meet each one of them and talk with them for a little while.”
“Oh, they won’t do that, you’re not important. You haven’t written a great book of literature.”
“I would like to possess all the knowledge in the world.”
“You’re a graduate student, and while your ego is big enough, your head is not. I’m afraid it won’t fit.”
Being a clever lyricist, I decided to ask the same question in a more oblique fashion. “Tell me where the next great philosopher will come from!”
“He’s already dead. You will have find his manuscripts.”
“Well, can’t you find them?”
“No, you will have to summon another demon for that.”
“Well, what good are you?”
“I have listened to you in earnest, without the succor of a strong wine. That is more than your students, colleagues, and bedfellows do.”
And with that, he faded away in a trail of thin smoke, leaving me alone in the cemetery.
Author bio: C. S. Hand is a threadbare graduate student fond of British and German Romanticism and moonlit perambulations through soft European countrysides. He recently translated a puckish, if dark, novella by Christian Winter, and is working on the subsequent full length novel while constantly battling tumid reading lists and jejune paper topics.