09/23/2022 Snippet, UNNAMED STORY.

This is actually starting to gel.

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Since she knew my name, even if you do not, I tried my best to be outgoing. “That’s right!” I replied, probably too brightly. “And you’re Beverly! Looking forward to the lecture?” I was proud of myself for getting that question out right away. I knew I might have to do actual conversation, in real time, and thought it would be a good idea to think about what I might say in advance.

I suppose that Beverly had done similar advance planning, because she responded quickly, too. “Oh, absolutely! I’m looking forward to hearing what [Lecturer] says about the Skull Coldheart legends in eastern Tennessee.”

“Skull — oh, yes! The wizard fiddler. I still think there’s a maritime influence in there somewhere…” and that was enough to keep us talking until the guest lecturer took the podium. I suppose Beverly overcame her shyness by acting like we were participating in a nested comment thread at the same time. I know that was what I did.

[Lecturer] — again, we are avoiding names — was an elderly woman, with a long, white ponytail and bright blue eyes behind her glasses. From the easy way she moved and her slightly tanned complexion, I could tell [Lecturer] was the sort of folklorist who collected data straight from the source. I had some hope that we would get more than yet another dry summation of the speaker’s last academic paper.

I needn’t have worried, because she absolutely knew her stuff. From her prepared remarks, [Lecturer’s] own father was himself a combination of musician and folklorist; she admitted to inheriting her interest in the field from him. If she had also inherited her skill at public speaking from him, he must have been a formidable entertainer. We were rapt throughout the full forty minutes of her sometimes-spoken, sometimes-sung presentation.

Thanks to the ridiculously low attendance of the lecture — I was cursing myself for not recording it — Beverly was able to ask her Skull Coldheart question. I don’t think [Lecturer] was expecting it, and I definitely don’t think Beverly expected the answer.

“Oh, he was a real person,” [Lecturer] said. “As much as any legend could be. You can trace the core stories, the ones about the Devil and the fiddle, back to only the mid-1960s; anything that happened after that was just people embellishing for the tape recorders. When they just weren’t adding to it from other sources.”

“When you say a real person, do you mean there was somebody walking around eastern Tennessee with the name ‘Skull Coldheart’?” asked Beverly.

“What? Oh, no. His real name got changed right away. The storytellers all thought it was safer that way. Coldheart was supposed to be a true wizard, you see — and wizards can hear you when you say their names, unless they’ve been burned to ashes. Since Coldheart only got eaten by the Devil, nobody wanted to take the chance.”

“Well, you know the name, right?” Beverly replied.

“I do,” said [Lecturer] — and nothing else.