A Treasure of Whispers
by Eric Hackler
From a letter discovered on the beach near Hammerhead Cove in Adak, Alaska. The pages had been tightly rolled and sealed in an empty bottle of whiskey from the Brusna Distillery in Ireland. Candle wax and pitch had been pressed around the cork. Some of the text, including the date had degraded, but from what remains, I estimate the letter was written in the latter 18th century. No record of ‘The Quenchless’ nor the expeditions mentioned has yet been discovered. Below is translated the complete text as near as could be replicated.
-Dr. Cassandra Smith
anthropologist, Anchorage Museum
I can only hope these words are found. Such would prove the impossible wrong and say my whisper has been heard. I cannot know in what form this reaches you, whether scrawled or uttered, and as I am most certainly dead by this time, I do not expect to be in a position to correct many errors. Though as you are here and have some semblance of my story before you, I suppose I may ignore The Captain a little longer and continue my tale.
The most important thing to know of me is that I am scared. In the physical, present world, I am drifting on the wreck of The Quenchless, a two-masted schooner, off the cost of some northern Pacific island. The moonlight miraculously shines through the clouds and the thin slats of my cabin walls so that I may have light to tell you my story. That is enough providence to push my pen to motion. Lacking it, I am not sure I should have the courage to write on. But as the world allows, I am here, my pen is inked and the sky provides me with light, and thus I write my account.
My name is Nathaniel. Our journey began from Porthnavas in England. There were seven of us to start. William, Edgar, Herman, Emily, Sylvia, Jane and myself. Of course, we were not the only ones aboard, but it was our little gang that remained close after the events of that first voyage. The Captain told me once that searching for treasure brings the kind of person who will never find it. We always want more, want to improve our find and for that, we will [never be] gratified. I cannot know if the others feel this, but it has for certain afflicted me.
Our first expedition was a success. I find no issue in stating that. We set out with what we wanted to accomplish and by the end, we had found the satisfaction we had sought. It is not hard to imagine that is why we all signed on for the second voyage. We learned such tales of each other on the first trip that we jumped at the chance to find out more and further cement the friendship. Whether we knew and denied it or were simply foolish, none of us suggested that we were surviving on water from a finite well and sooner more so than later, there would be nothing remaining to discover.
I can never forget the uneasiness in the air when we found that second treasure. Edgar and Herman felt it more than the rest, I think – though knowing what I know now, thanks to The Captain – I am more certain the paleness in the air was due to the presence of the unearthed, rust-tainted sword at our feet.
I will try to explain it to you as The Captain did to me. For most of our lives, we exist in the world of the physical. We touch real things, eat real food, love real people. But we all have moments when we pass the mark and touch the world beyond the real. And when we do that, we leave a piece of ourselves behind. It is the reason children believe all things are possible while life’s veterans grumble into decades-old tankards. The Captain says to imagine a cloud of smoke moving through an empty castle. As it goes, little bits of it will break off and linger in other rooms. Wisps. Imbued with intention. Harbingers of the end of fantastical eras. Some clouds have larger wisps than others. Some reach out and share themselves so rarely that they never pass on their drifts. They end up old, still believing in the impossible without the ability to attempt it. The Captain is like this. I believe I am the only thing his cloud has ever touched. I am sure he has his reasons for choosing me and I am sure I will never admit what they are.
But this story is not about the clouds. It is about the wisps. The objects and ideas left imprinted by the past. The sword we found on our second journey was one. As soon as we touched that sword on that icy, southern beach, we felt it. The anguish in its wake. The shadow of the blood it had spilt. The seemingly inevitable loss seared to its soul. I think William got it the worst. Before our first trip returned to port, he was worried about our band’s departure. I will admit, I felt it much worse than I let on. Emily and Sylvia almost certainly felt it, but being of a naturally sunnier disposition than the rest of us, I feel they mostly dismissed it as an impossibility. Jane seemed not to have felt it at all. So, there we were. Standing in the sand and snow – listening to the waves and whales splashing in the distance, each letting the wispy history of that sword wash over us. That invaluable sword which no one wanted. Alone in that moment, humbled by the enormity of the bloody past, even together, we all felt abandoned.
I do not fathom I shall ever be able to articulate what those first few excursions meant to me. I had never been a full member of a crew like ours. There had certainly been times when I had worked alongside others but never as an equal. I had lived slightly over or slightly under, but always to the outside of the groups to whose ranks I most desired entry. That secret desire, more than anything else fuels my hope. Belonging. The treasure I seek most above all, and - as The Captain assures me - the one I will never attain. From here forward, you will see how I tried to hold fast to that kinship only to find my efforts pushing me undertow-like, further away. It is most likely that these very pages are seditiously working to do the same – to remove yet another vital piece from me and leave me more alone even than I am now. But it is all I can do. I have my memories to show me what has possible. And I have my hope.
The seas behind and before you always shine with a different colour than the ones you currently sail. All the same water, but from the mindset of a treasure hunter, nothing is ever as fulfilling as what has passed before you, nothing as promising as the offer of the waves ahead. As I think back on that beach now, the colours, bleak as they were, have not faded. That was the last time we were all truly on the same journey. From that moment onward, we carried each other only in our minds and our affects.
William and I began exploring together. Our first quest took us over land from Nova Scotia. My uncle and grand-pere often spoke of monsters off the edge of the sea, but it was on solid ground that William and I found ours. This time it was a ring. Not our first treasure since the sword, but the first time since when we encountered a wisp of such intention. This wisp was one of love, of companionship, of trust. And yet this made me feel even sadder and more alone than the sword. Even with all the love coursing through it, this ring had been left behind. A sword abandoned leaves a history of blood. A ring leaves loneliness.
As I write this, The Captain is naturally suggesting perhaps the ring was left so the intention imbued within it might strengthen others. He often has such suggestions, but only when the thought of changing the matter is already lost to the seas.
He is a strange man, The Captain. I did not begin sailing under him until our group had parted and I was joining crews on my own. Over the years we have made many voyages together though we have parted company on more than a few. He possessed – or is possessed by – I am not sure – an atmosphere of endlessness. When climates are at their bleakest, he reminds me of worse. Yet when the sun shines on our cause, he is the most jovial of the lot. To date, I can remember only one other time when he gave me hope when I had none. I can never remember him calm.
I cannot know if William felt the way I did about the ring at the time. I am certain he has felt it since. As we both carry the memory and the physical futility of what we did to ensure the wisps’ longevity. Seeking to preserve our friendship, we struck the ring in two and each took a piece. But desperation is a strong intention and it could not be long before the memory of our adventure was the only lasting connection. The love imbued in the ring had been replaced.
It is many years since that expedition. The fragment of the ring still sits by my bed. Some days, when the moonlight hits it just exactly, the metal seems to blaze as gloriously as ever. And for a moment, I am allowed to hope that the love it was once blessed with still lives in its silver. Most days, it sits there, tarnished and dusty. A reminder of the mistakes we made. Sometimes people ask what it is. I cannot answer. I no longer know how to explain. And there is enough smoke enshrouding it already without adding more intentions to the fog.
Years past. Countful years and countless wisps. Some taken note of, some not. It is a curious truth of most lives that we only see the profound when we are expecting it. The Captain has told me, as he stares unblinkingly into my eyes, that the grand secret to finding the beautiful intentions of the lives others lead is to simply be open to finding them. Some are more noticeable than others.
And the final wisp of my story is the most noticeable of all. A sketch. The last time we seven were together. Home from our excursions and for no other purpose than to remember the journeys and to pretend for a few shining hours that we were still the strangers we once were. On that night, we created the sketch and in the seeming ages since, I have come to understand how many intentions surround the single portrait. As I sailed on my own, as I met The Captain, as he began advising me to open myself to the objects and feelings most either do not notice or deeply fear, every time a new wisp filled me, the strength of that sketch grew stronger. In that image, we had attempted the impossible. To undo the intention that sword on the beach had left us with – to win a centuries-old war against abandonment. I could not see it at the time, I am not sure any of us did. And I do not know if we do now. Maybe I was too late to the realisation, maybe I am first and the others will feel it too one day. But into that sketch we poured our companionship, our fulfilment and our newly entwined histories. And picturing our sketch now, one thing holds true in my mind and gives me my hope. We are not condemned only to find the wisps left by others; we have the power to create them for others.
This thought has echoed through my body every day for the past year. Every hour of this derelict drifting. The thought that made me reach for my pen every day, even after the failures of the days before. But tonight, as the cold wind whistles through the shredded sails and even the planks of the ship and long mourning cries of lost gulls make me yearn for moments of the past, I have found myself standing at the edge of the map. There are monsters beyond this. And whether I am a strong enough writer to exist with them, I do not know. But I have too long been under the rope of my own fear and it has come time I take that step and let the hope that has festered inside me all these months have its turn at the helm. I have spent my life receiving wisps. Being changed, loved, bolstered, and abandoned by their power. It is time I whispered back.
Here is my hope:
I hope that this yarn has reached you in its entirety. I hope that somehow amidst my rambles of misstrung words, something of my intentions broke through.
I hope that whoever you are, you open yourself to my story. Having only ever been on the receiving end, I do not know if this is true, but I have never known a tale imbued with as much intention as the one you now hold in your hands and eyes and heart. An intention that you do not let your friends go. That you finish this page and immediately draft a letter to those you hold dearest – the ones who have witnessed your wisps and the ones who will understand what you mean when you tell them they have made you meaningful – and you pass the intention on to them. So that you might have the kind of enduring adventure that I was offered and passed up.
The map is full of stories and sketches and rings and swords. A life surrounded and equally full of intentions – some only echoed on the faintest wind, some screamed like a siren upon the rocks. They are unbearably easy to overlook but if you do, you may find yourself where I am. Where The Captain is. Alone and abandoned. Perhaps not physically. But a life not intentionally shared, is not a life worth living. I only wish I had known that before I lived mine.
The deck of the ship is cold against my bare feet. I step towards the bow. Having bared my soul to you, clothes seem less necessary than they have in the past. The air chills its way across my skin in a disinterested attempt to pierce me, but the feeling stops at the surface. I have too much practice at not feeling. I look down at the water and meet his eyes. The Captain. My murky reflection. Everything I love and hate, long since pulled from me and now only accessed in shards. He tells me it cannot work. That I have wasted ink on nonsense. But tonight, I can ignore him. My tale was written by hope, not by doubt and all the lonliness and solitude in his eyes cannot stop the intentions of my words as they are carried away around us on the whispering wind and waves.
© 2023 Eric Hackler