In the year 1776, a goat named Herb – the first goat ever, like in the history of the world – was grazing by a cliff overlooking the ocean when he glimpsed something curious in the sea. Befuddled by these massive, thrashing strands of… of what? Hair? Spaghetti? He trotted down a winding path – clip clop clip clop – to the water’s edge, and craned his neck so his bristled, furry, stubby horned head could get a better look.
Herb realized that what he saw weren’t enormous waves of… whatever it was he thought they were, but… arms? Ever the curious goat, Herb waded into the ocean until the tides crashed over his head. He swam further out to sea, beyond the jagged rocks piercing the sky, trying to reach the long purple arms stretching from the depths below.
Finally, Herb felt something grab his hind leg, something squishy, yet firm. It pulled him under. He fought to breach the surface, but as he struggled, he found himself wasting precious breath and pulled further down into the cold and murky chasm. The grip on his leg loosened and he paddled upward with all his might, took a deep breath of fresh air and… dove back under!?! His curiosity was insatiable, and its a wonder the first goat ever lived through eleven centuries at all.
Alert, he saw the long armed creature that had been thrashing about earlier, the same beast that dragged him into this navy abyss. Herb counted the seemingly endless parade of flowing arms. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Twelve. Twenty. It was hard to tell with all the movement. The goat had never seen anything like this creature, and he immediately knew she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Between gasps of air, the octopus and Herb talked for hours about their lives, him grazing on cliffy grass, she scavenging for food near the ocean’s surface. It was a school of tuna she hoped to wrangle when Herb spied her flailing about earlier in the day.
The goat suddenly realized the hour was late and said, “I must go, but I shall return on the morrow!” (He loved talking all olde-Englishy. It sounded austere.)
“I would like that very much,” the octopus replied. She swam off, down and away into her subterranean cave.
“A moment!” Herb yelled. She turned. “What is your name?” he asked.
“Sharon,” she replied.
“Sharon,” he repeated wistfully.
He hardly slept at all that night, so eager to return to the ocean. He swam out beyond the jagged rock pile once more, took in a deep gasp of air, and paddled down down down to meet Sharon. Their chatter picked up from yesterday’s encounter. They gabbed for hours on end about anything, everything, everything and anything: inky discharges, the war for independence (of which they both had no particular viewpoint), the pros and cons of a vegan diet. This same visitation scene rewound itself day in and day out, sun up to sundown, for years, maybe decades – no one’s really sure – until one fateful morning…
Herb galloped down the twisting trail to the sea, a bouquet of dandelions for Sharon hanging from his mouth – how she loved dandelions – when he saw a familiar thrashing at the crest of the ocean.
Or not. It wasn’t Sharon’s typical splashing for food. Something about it seemed… distressed. The massive ship anchored nearby only served to augment Herb’s fears. The dandelions fell from his gaping mouth and he watched in horror as his one true love wailed against the mesh netting of a snare released by the boat.
At a full sprint that was more akin to the gait of his cousin the horse than any old billy goat, Herb ran toward Sharon and her captors in the smoke-spewing metal tub. He charged through the shallows. He bulled his way over, under, through the waves. He even managed to run with a good foot of saltwater over his head. And then he swam. Herb kicked ferociously, more fiercely than if he had been fighting for his own breath, and once upon a time, he had done just that, fighting for air the day he first met Sharon.
Oh how they joked about that initial encounter over the years. And now here they were, both fighting for the same breath.
By the time he reached the stern of the ship, Herb was too late. The rolling ocean ran red. Harpoons. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Twelve. Twenty. It was hard to tell with all the movement. The goat had never seen anything like this before, and he vowed to never forget.
That was the word plastered across the hulking ship’s bow, all shiny in a fresh coat of golden paint.
It must have been an innate instinct to survive, because if any conscious decision were to be made, Herb would have drowned himself out past the rock pile at the site of his greatest love, his greatest loss. The last thing he could remember was the bloody taste of iodine and salt from the ocean. Or maybe his tears. Who can really say?
From the sandy shore he watched the dandelions bob up and down, drifting lazily into open water. He stared blankly long after the yellow flowers were swallowed by the horizon.
Days passed before he realized he was in the city, well beyond the sandy beach, the winding trail, the grassy cliff. Clip clop clip clop along the cobblestone roads. Aware of a faint sensation akin to hunger, he let his nose lead him to an alley behind a restaurant. The neon sign announced the cafe as LE POISSON, but the bulb in the first S had burned out.
Cuisine made no difference. All Herb could taste was salt and iodine.
He shooed away some scraggly cats congregating around a trashcan and peaked inside to see what all the fuss was about. The cats had been licking tin cans clean. Herb read a label:
CANNED CALAMARI, a product of ABRACADABRA FISHERIES
His heart ground into a fine powder, Herb ate the can. It tasted like salt and iodine. He died soon after. It was New Year’s Day, 1862, one year before Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves (which has nothing to do with this story).
And that is why, to this day, goats eat cans. Not because they want to, but to remember the immeasurable agony suffered by Herb, the first goat ever.
And because even this cloud has a silver lining, I will impart a little known secret to you. They say there is a stretch of beach where dandelions grow, where a winding path leads to a grassy cliff, and from this cliff, if you’re lucky, you might see the purple arms of an octopus grasping the sky. If you’re really lucky, you might even catch its bristled, furry head and stubby horns, a head not unlike a goat.