September 7, 2021

BERNSTEIN | The True Mystery of Z. K. Goat and Ithaca: The Novel

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I was walking down the porch stairs of my Collegetown house on my way to breakfast one August morning when I noticed a book sitting upright on my rocking chair. It was a beige 101-page paperback in good condition entitled Ithaca: The Novel by Z. K. Goat. There was no note telling me who dropped it off, but it seemed intentional.  I’d just spent the whole Summer here in Ithaca, and it was carefully dropped off on my rocking chair — not placed in the mailbox or anything. I knew all my friends were still asleep, but I asked in the group chat if anyone left it there and carried on to breakfast.

No one knew anything, but I figured it was probably a friend or someone I know. I’d recently lent a book to a neighbor, so maybe they were returning the favor. Still, the little mystery was exciting, so I rushed home, sat in the same rocking chair, and cracked it open.

It’s about the Odyssey’s Penelope and Odysseus: They’re vacationing for the Summer from the underworld, and instead of going home to Ithaca, Greece, they decide to visit Ithaca, New York. How quirky! They stay at Argos Inn in Room 214. On page 2, Penelope heads out to go work on her poems, which she does every day. “The fifteenth of August,” she thinks. “Our time here is almost done.” 

I immediately stopped reading. I checked my phone. It was August 15th.

Something was up with this book, something weird. I continued to read. Penelope walks out of Argos and over to her place of work. The Goddess Athena has given her invisibility powers, so she likes to sneak into some dumb college kid’s house to write. She heads on up to a buttercream house at the top of Seneca Street with round shingles that remind her of mermaid scales.

I stopped reading again. My house is a buttercream house at the top of Seneca Street with round mermaid scale shingles. At this point I’m almost freaking out. I looked around the house for hints of where the book came from. I asked my passing-by neighbors if they got a copy too — nothing. I checked the books’ back to learn more.

The author bio says, “Z. K. Goat has been writing and publishing for more than half a century. They have climbed to the temple of Athena on Skyros and to the palace of Odysseus and Penelope on Ithaki. Now they live by a long lake in central New York State.” The picture shows a person’s back, and they’re wearing a hat such that you can see neither hair nor skin, and behind their back they’re holding a statue of an owl. They’re wearing gloves on their hands. It’s as vague as can be.

The testimonials of the book are from famous Ithacan authors — all with one thing in common: They’re dead. Quick flip to the copyright page shows the book is released in 2021.

Now’s where it really gets creepy: Go ahead and google Z. K. Goat. You’ll find nothing but a facebook page showing competitive show goats last updated in 2018. Then take a swipe at looking up Ithaca: the Novel. You’ll find that the book is available for presale on Barnes and Noble, Amazon and wherever you get your supernatural novellas. Yes, you read that right: Presale. The book doesn’t come out until September 20th.

A real life mystery is afoot on Seneca Street! Fit with gods and ghosts and what feels like magic happening right in front of my eyes. I keep reading. In fact, I finished the book that day. All while sitting in my rocking chair.

Throughout the story, other buildings and storylines are referenced. Odysseus travels (on an Odyssey, if you will) from the end of West Seneca to the top of East, stopping at different storefronts or houses, like the Starbucks or a yard sale at a bright yellow house. Additionally, a third character, a Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Novelist travels through Ithaca and intertwines her path with that of our two protagonists. She stops at the Alley Cat Cafe and the Fontana’s Sidewalk Sale. Penelope stops for lunch at Souvlaki House (like me, she’s ecstatic about how it’s right across the street from our house).

I thought to myself, if I got the book delivered to my porch that morning, maybe these other places did too. So I stopped by Fontana’s and Souvlaki House, and I even talked to the people who live at other houses referenced on Seneca Street. Meanwhile, I was live tweeting the whole thing. But no one knew anything about the book. There’s no sign of Ithaca: The Novel anywhere.

By the end of the night, I finished the book and read the acknowledgements. Finally, I think, “I’ve hit a real clue”: Thanked in the acknowledgements is Argos Inn, for a “wide-window lit room”. I figured that our mystery author must have stayed at the Inn and written in this room. So I drove to Argos and talked to the Innkeeper.

I’m not even halfway through explaining my situation before he cuts me off.

“Actually, we got a copy of that book this morning,” he said. The person who worked the morning shift wasn’t there, but the Innkeeper told me he had heard that a woman with multicolored hair dropped off the book and that’s all he knew. I asked if they knew about anyone staying in the Inn who could be Z. K. Goat. They didn’t have much, but gave me a lead or two and rushed me out. They were closing.

It’s been over three weeks since that fateful day. The leads haven’t gotten me very far. I’ve reached out to people referenced in the acknowledgements, the person to whom the book is dedicated and even local writers. But I’ve hit walls. I’ve learned some things — for example, I’m pretty sure the author is an Ithaca College professor — but I’m still left with questions. How did the book show up? Why did I get it? Who really is Z. K. Goat?

I write this column both to share this true mystery story, and also to continue it: I hope that it leads to more clues and hints, and adventures to take on in search of answers. If you know anything about Z. K. Goat or Ithaca: The Novel, reach out. If you, Z. K. Goat, are reading this — well, you know where I live.

Daniel Bernstein is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Feel the Bern runs every other Monday this semester.