I was bored, that’s the thing. That’s how all life changing stories start: the main character was bored on his phone. While mindlessly scrolling through my downloaded apps, I noticed I had Duolingo installed that I hadn’t checked out before. I vaguely remembered downloading it a few weeks before during a rainy weekend. I honestly didn’t care much about it but I had nothing better to do while I was waiting for the guys to show up.
I scrolled past German, French, Irish, and Spanish – I had learned German thanks to my Austrian dad, and Spanish I had taken in school – but then an ad popped up and I clicked on it on accident, cursing my fat fingers. Thankfully, the ad wasn’t a virus but a part of the app itself, and I was then presented with “an opportunity to try a beta version of a NEW LANGUAGE” Duolingo would apparently be introducing in “just a few months’ time, once enough worthy learners had taken the course.” I chuckled, I admit.
I checked the time – I still had at least half an hour until the others were supposed to show up, so I said fuck it, let’s check it out. Better to learn a few phrases in a foreign language – I might learn to curse Jenny for always being late in a lingo she won’t know – than to click on candies.
I didn’t know Duolingo had dark theme. It looked pretty cool. I did some introductory phrases, which was easy enough for me to complete absentmindedly, with my music on loud. It was your basic hellos and how-do-you-dos, interspersed with asking for directions and counting stakes.
But then I got to the part that baffled me. The next part was called Offering Sacrifice to the Elder Gods – and I snorted through my nose. It must be some kind of practical joke, I figured. I glanced towards my bookshelf full of horror stories – Robert Chambers, Lovecraft, Poe, King, Barker – and clicked away.
“I pleddgee my undyinggg devottion ohh Greatt Onnne” was the first phrase I was supposed to learn to translate and my mouth went dry.
When the doorbell rang, I jumped in my seat. It had to be Mark, he was always the first one to show up, but my first thought was to keep quiet and hope the visitor would go away. The doorbell rang more impatiently, however, and that’s when I chuckled nervously, shook my head, and got up to answer the door. What a silly thought.
“Hey man, took you a while. I got beer. Tom’s with me too, he’s just grabbing some chips and shit”, Mark said, already on his way to the fridge. He kept talking while putting the cans away, as he always did. “I can’t believe we forgot chips, man. I told him to put them next to the beer but he never listens to me. Fucking Tom. It’s those new ones I told you about. We’ll bring them next week, don’t worry.”
I watched Mark as he was pouring himself a glass of water and grabbing bowls, as if he were the host and I the guest.
“Do you have popcorn? Proper popcorn, not this chilly shit – oh, here they are.”
“Where’s Jenny? She coming?”
“Yeah... yeah, she’s just running late. You know how she is.” I said.
Mark turned around after placing the popcorn bag in the microwave. “You alright, man? You seem a bit out of it. You’re kinda pale.”
For a moment I considered telling him about my escapade with Duolingo, but I dismissed the thought. After all, it was silly. Someone pulled a prank and made a stupid add-on in a language app that startled me. Big fucking deal.
“Yeah no, I dozed off for a bit just before you showed up, so I’m still catching up.”
“How’s your sleep schedule these days? Still crap?”
“Still crap. Too much work and stress”, I said.
“You need to take better care of yourself, man. You’ll flip out or die of exhaustion.” Mark said and I agreed. He was right.
“I just need to finish that project and I’ll take a well-deserved vacation”, I said. He didn’t seem convinced, but nodded anyway. He set the timer for the popcorn and changed the subject.
Tom and Jenny showed up together, around five minutes before the show started, so we only had time to get settled with snacks and beer and not much else. Mark snuggled to Tom and I had popcorn in my lap between the couple and Jenny, so I couldn’t move.
Around halfway through the episode, Jenny suddenly leaned forward and grabbed my phone to check the time and before I could protest – especially since I had a bowl of unpopped kernels on my lap – she turned the screen on.
“Wow your phone bugged out”, she said. Sure enough, the time wasn’t showing – only some green and grey blobs. I took the phone with a smile – Mark shushed us – and turned it off.
For some reason, the idea of turning it back on while Jenny and Mark were able to see the screen made my skin crawl. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for the episode to be over so that they’d leave. I couldn’t follow the narrative; I was too aware of the heat of the phone on my thigh. Jenny had told me there was a petition to rewrite and re-shoot the entire eight season, but at that point I couldn’t care less. As soon as the end screen popped up, I excused myself and locked myself in the bathroom.
When I turned the phone on, however, everything seemed normal. No blobs, no bugs, nothing out of the ordinary. Confused, I opened the Duolingo app.
The language I had picked just a few hours before was gone. The weird thing was that I couldn’t even remember its name, let alone the phrases I had learned. I scrolled past all of the listed languages and it wasn’t there. I locked the phone. In the mirror, my face looked normal, albeit slightly pale. I looked both relieved and disappointed.
“Ian? C’mon, man, let’s finish the last round so we can split”, said Mark outside of the bathroom door so I quickly washed my face and rejoined them.
When they left, I found myself relentlessly checking my phone, even restarting it a few times, hoping that the language would somehow reappear. The next morning, having slept an hour or two, I wrote an email to Duolingo support to ask about the “newly added language that I liked but couldn’t remember the name of” and deleted it before even finishing it. The entire day at work I kept reaching for my phone, so much so that Jim from accounting noticed. I had to make some stupid excuse as to why I wasn’t focused on my big project and then to force myself not to check my phone until well after 5 pm.
But afterwards, in my car, after two more tries, I started thinking – and I felt like coming out of a dream – why was I so obsessed about this? It couldn’t have been more than a bug, which would explain its disappearance and weird spelling. And I did do the entire thing absentmindedly, so no wonder I couldn’t remember anything. I was happy with that explanation.
So why did I start writing the email to Duolingo again?
A reply came a few hours later: “Duolingo is planning on adding several new languages within the year, but none have been added recently. Thank you for your support.”
“I found a language that I liked and I was wondering if it’s coming back”, I tried. The reply I received for that was apologetic – they can’t disclose what languages they’d be implementing – but at that point I was pretty sure none of them would be the one.
I tried googling. Duolingo languages. Duolingo languages bug.
Alien languages on Duolingo.
Hours and hours passed. I went through forums and message boards, threads that had long been abandoned, support and Wikipedia, and everything else I could think of. No one heard nor mentioned a bug that I had experienced and at some point, I believed there was no bug at all. I went to bed with my head pounding, but couldn’t fall asleep for a long time, and when I did, I was tortured with horrible dreams and unnamable apparitions.
I woke up with a start; my head was splitting, my ears ringing, and I was disoriented.
“Hey man, are you okay? Are we still on for tomorrow?”
It took me several moments to recognize Mark’s voice; it also took me quite some time to realize what he was referring to.
I closed my eyes.
“Yeah... hi, Mark. Yeah, we’re on.”
“Are you still in bed? Jesus man, it’s noon. Long night?”
Longer than you think, I said to myself. I confirmed our Game of Thrones watching plans and said goodbye. I couldn’t remember the previous week. Every day I kept searching forum after forum until way past midnight; I think my boss finally noticed my aloofness and irritability and I was honestly expecting to be asked to come in to see him on Monday. But I didn’t care.
Because I finally had a lead.
That last night I stumbled upon a link in a thread somewhere deep in an occult forum – I don’t even know how I got on that forum – that opened up a new perspective.
I might have been dealing with something not of this world.
It made perfect sense. There are languages of yore, like Lovecraft mentioned in his woks – and that was even backed up by works of fiction such as Game of Thrones. Finally, that fateful night, I even found a guy who had mentioned he had had the same experience years ago, but sadly he hadn’t been active on the forum since 2014. It didn’t matter, however. I wasn’t alone.
He had written about his experience in great detail, albeit his posts hadn’t gotten much traction – and his blog had long since been abandoned – and I learned about the language used by great people to communicate with Elder Gods. I realized, then, that he too had been chosen, like myself, by them in the only way they could get our attention in this deprived day and age. They had spoken to both of us, and we had that sacred and glorious duty to enact our will.
I closed my eyes. Ever since my phone restarted last week, I hadn’t been able to continue my language course, save for what I had picked up during late hours on the forum. But that wasn’t enough.
I opened the app again, as I had done countless times since last Sunday, and prayed the language would be there again.
But xDagonLover666 had said only the worthy could see the message from gods. He had to have been right.
“I am worthy”, I said to my phone. “Show me”, I whispered. “Show me again and I’ll prove myself to you.”
I took a deep breath and repeated the last sentence the app taught me.
“I pleddgee my undyinggg devottion ohh Greatt Onnne”, I said, and I was immediately washed with serenity and unparalleled understanding. All around me there were atoms floating in harmony, singing praise to the Elder Gods in their horrible wisdom; I was overcome with a sense of calmness I had never felt before.
I opened the app and it was there – The One True Language, the way to speak to the Elder Gods, the key to eternal oneness with all of the universe.
Now, after this week of sleepless nights and terrible loss, I finally understood what was expected of me.
Translatte intto onnne true langgguage, I read, The folllowing sentttence:
“I pledggge sacriffficial fleshhh annnd blooodde to thhhe Elder Goddds.”
I translated while my eyes filled with joyful tears. I was one with the unnniverse.
“I shall do whhhat you askkk.” I said.
When thhhe bell rannng, I was readddy.