I made it a habit over the years to search down the original authors of many famous quotes. While others in the field were largely baffled by my consistent ability to source these works, I told them plainly that it only took a bit of know-how and dedication.
I'd lavish you with all the accomplishments I've made, but honestly these feats have come to bore me. I pressed a bit too far... stuck my nose into the wrong places... and as a result I lost some of what little mystery was left to solve.
I'd treated that label like the name of an estranged romantic partner. Anything attributed to him or her instantly fascinated me. Hidden gem or tired cliché, if it was uttered by that wonderful ethereal entity... the "Unknown"... I was enthralled.
I suppose I'm most attracted to the concept of the everyman, unremarkable as he is, creating some timeless nugget of wisdom before forever slipping into obscurity.
If I can manage it, I do these great people the honor of revealing their identity to the world. If this is not possible... well, I enjoy their work all the more.
I suppose it couldn't hurt to mention one small line I was able to source.
"A man must make his wife happy, lest his widow be happy he's gone."
For centuries, that was attributed to "Anonymous" until I traced its first appearance back to the journal of a reclusive nobleman by the name of Sir Marcus Peet.
I would say this obsession had taken over my adult life, were it not for the fact I did find time to build a proper family. I earn a very respectable wage. My bride should indeed be happy, as she wants for nothing.
As you might imagine, when I received a mysterious note that piqued my interest in relation to this "obsession", I could do nothing else but give in to curiosity.
The note was written on old parchment with what must've been ink and quill. The delightful loops of the script took me back to every musty old tome I'd poured over. Whoever had sent me the communication had indeed mastered the art of enticing me.
"Dear Sir," it started, "I have come to learn you have a certain appetite for un-attributed works. I believe that I may have much information to share with you on this subject. I am staying in town, and you may find me midnight tomorrow at LaCroix. Buy me a drink, and come to the rear booth."
It was even signed in a way that would drive me to ecstasy.
I had been to that tavern many times before and knew it well. Rather, at this particular establishment I was known well. The ability to recite prose and execute Shakespeare flawlessly made me a bit of a celebrity with the patrons.
I arrived early that night, careful to conceal myself amongst a group of sailors who had just arrived to port. Their manner was, at best, rough... however within that heady, distinctly male aura I could be just as rough as them.
Midnight arrived, and I'd seen no unusual patrons enter the establishment. None, save for the group of men slowly growing bitter and surly all around me. Still, I figured it best to wait for the note's author at his desired meeting spot. If he arrived late and saw an empty booth, he might have thought I'd come and gone.
"Ah! Here you are!" boomed a boisterous voice within the shadows. I'd just arrived at the rear booth, drinks in hand, when the unseen stranger called to me.
"My, you must've arrived quite early to have beaten me!!" I laughed, entirely befuddled.
The man reached for his drink instinctively, either knowing or guessing what I'd purchased for him. It was a Merlot, produced locally, that I felt best represented the humble area he was visiting.
The man's hand was large, but hairless. His nails were a bit long, and calluses marked his fingers where one might hold a pen or pencil. As that great paw retracted into the darkness with its glass, I felt a sudden cold chill of dread.
I had no real idea of this man's identity, and the snuffed candles by his silhouetted form seemed to say this would remain the case.
"Sit!" he gestured to my seat, great hand once again pale under the light.
"My name is-" I started, only to have my mouth suddenly run dry, "Well, I suppose you already know. What should I call you?"
"Ha!" he drew back into the darkness as I caught the slightest glimmer of his raised glass, "I know your name, and so too do you know mine!"
I leaned back and stroked my chin. Did I know him already? I couldn't place the voice, and I had never known anyone with fingers as thick as rope.
"Ah!" I snapped my fingers, "Unknown."
He laughed and treated me to slow applause.
"But that's not your given name, correct? Or is it? I suppose anything is possible." I found myself quickly venturing into the realm of insult.
"Well, it's one of them. Unknown, Anonymous, Un-Attributed, and so on. That's just in English! If you throw in the rest of the globe, I have as many names as God himself!"
I sipped my own drink, careful not to overdo it after finding inebriated brotherhood with the sailors. I figured this man to be some sort of trickster... perhaps a highwayman about to bait the hook for some profitable scheme.
"You seem confused. I suppose I'd better explain a bit more."
The man leaned back in a manner similar to myself, and for a moment that dark space looked as if it might have suddenly become empty.
"The quotes that vex you... the ones that seem to HAVE no true author... I say to you that I am that author! I am the Unknown itself. You will find no end to the journey because the authors you seek do not exist."
I chuckled at the gall of this unseemly shadow-man.
"Fine then, give me a quote or two. Ones you've written."
Thinking quickly, I had baited a hook of my own. All he had to do was recite a single phrase I had properly attributed, and the game would be over.
"Nothing makes sense until we make sense of it." he quipped.
I pursed my lips and squinted at him. That was indeed an author who had slipped my grasp.
"An enlightened man is one with himself... and two with another!" he laughed, "That's one of my favorites. Bit of nonsense, isn't it?"
The second quote was much the same! I had long since given up on it.
"One more, then. If you please."
"Money is there for those willing to make it. H..." he halted. For a moment, I thought he'd stumped himself and I could feel the relief washing over me, "One moment please."
The man took another sip of his drink.
"Sorry, I'd gone dry," he laughed, "Money is there for those willing to make it. Hanging remains for those who would take it. The workman builds the gallows, and the hangman does the deed. Pity not the thief, for they are all but men of need." another chuckle, "Can you believe people often swap in 'greed'? That makes no sense whatsoever!"
The third arrow had been fired across the bow, and I'd lost my secret gamble. All three quotes un-attributed, despite my best attempts. In fact, those three were among the ones I'd most obsessed over.
"The lines you've come up with, they're quite old. If you had written them you'd be hundreds if not thousands of years old."
I had him there. Beyond his uncanny skills thus far, I knew what he claimed to be impossible.
"Ideas and dreams can be fleeting," he drew in a heavy breath and expelled it, "But the written word is immortal."
"Stop that!" I chided.
"Apologies. It's simply my nature."
I moved to leave the table, sure I'd met with some escaped lunatic. This would have been a night I'd tell stories about... perhaps I would add a few embellishments, as any good author might.
"Leaving? Still not convinced?" he sounded hurt, though his deep baritone voice still filled me with foreboding.
He drew a bread knife from the table and held it erect.
"Here," he said, bringing his finger over the tip of its gleaming blade, "Let this remove all doubt."
Before I could move to stop him, the man pricked his fingertip on the blade and held the wound out before me. That tiny tear in his skin, painful no doubt, spilled forth the dark lifeblood of my strange acquaintance.
It was black. It was ink.
I returned to my seat.
"Why did you contact me?" I cut to the chase, as I no longer saw any point in making idle conversation.
"Oohh," the man drank deep, "I wanted to meet my great admirer! I know you've been following my work, and though you've gotten a few things wrong over the years I do consider you a friend."
"In fact," he added, "I'm willing to help you with your work. You may ask me anything... cite any quote... and I'll tell you if it's mine. If it isn't I'll give you the proper author. My knowledge on the subject knows no boundaries, you see."
My heart raced. Sitting before me was the one man capable of completing my life's goal. This one man, strange as he may be, was the single greatest thing to happen to me in all my years on this Earth.
... Or was he?
"What do you ask in return?" I peered into the darkness, "Sorry if that seems blunt, but I've been insulting you nonstop and I suppose I'd like to continue."
"I've already told you," he replied coolly.
He hadn't, had he? I might have been a bit drunk, but I imagined I would have recalled such a thing. The price of services rendered is quite an important part of any bargain.
"Can you tell me again?" I mumbled, unsure of what this discussion truly meant.
"Oh, I don't like to repeat myself," he harrumphed, "No, no I shant do that."
I pressed my fingers to my temples and rubbed hard, as if doing so would bring back some hint as to what this man, the Unknown, was talking about.
"Ah!" I snorted, grinned, and took another swig of my drink, "Sorry, but I'm afraid I must decline."
The man was quiet for a moment, then he drew in yet another weighty breath.
"Very well," his demeanor seemed to be reduced, as did his voice itself, "You're a smart man indeed. I shall be very happy to continue following your research... May it bring you all that you desire."
With that, he placed his empty glass on the table, leaned back into the shadow once more, and was well and truly gone. It was the quotes, you see... one, in particular. The moment I thought back to the little test I had given him, I knew the true cost of his wisdom.
An enlightened man is one with himself... and two with another.
Clever of him to hide behind the innocuous wordplay of that child-like phrase. He was a very clever man, to be sure... and I suppose he regarded me in much the same way. Still, I don't think I could've spent an eternity keeping him company.
He'll have to accept that his great admirer won't be around forever.