by Eric Hackler
I wrote this story as a dare from a couple of my friends who challenged me to work outside my usual genre. I didn't plan to write anything specific,
I just sat down and let the story take me wherever it wanted to.
If you’re reading this story, I honestly have no idea how. I’m not even sure you’re getting the right message. Of course, I’m likely dead at this point, so I don’t expect to be in a position to correct any errors, but since you are here and you have at least some vague semblance of my story before you, I suppose The Captain was right and I should continue.
As I started, I am not certain of how this has reached you. Whether it’s the paper I wrote on, the pen, the ink, maybe the words themselves even – most of which surmises that you actually are reading this on paper and not having it told to you or presented in some other form not yet devised in my time. Though I sincerely hope that is not the case for if it is, then it is likely too late for you to do what I am going to ask of you in a few pages time.
The most important thing to know about me is I’m scared. In the physical, present world, I am drifting in a two-masted ship 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. Without it, I’m not sure I’d have the courage to write on. But as the world sets it, I am here, my pen is inked and the sky provides me with light, and thus on with the tale.
The second thing to know about me is my name is Nathaniel. Our journey began on a small near Britain. In my day, it is still a colony under the studious eyes of Rome. I don’t know what it is on your map. There were seven of us to start. William, Edgar, Herman, Emily, Sylvia, Jane and myself. Of course, we weren’t the only ones aboard, but it was our little gang that remained close after the events of that first voyage. The Captain told me that searching for treasure is a calling that brings the kind of person who will never find it. We always want more, want to improve our find and for that reason, we will never be satisfied. I don’t know if the others feel this, but it is certainly what happened to 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 were hoping for. I think that’s why we all signed up together for the second journey. 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 we were simply ignorant, none of us mentioned that we were surviving on water from a finite well and sooner more so than later, there wouldn’t be anything remaining to discover.
I will 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, credit to The Captain – I am more certain the pallor in the air was thanks to the half-buried sword at our feet.
Let me try to explain it to you as The Captain has told it 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’s the reason children believe all things are possible while life’s veterans scoff into their tankards. Imagine a cloud of smoke moving through an empty house. As it goes, little bits of it will break off and linger in other places. Some, I am told, have larger plumes than others. Some reach out and share themselves so rarely that they never pass on their intentions. They end up old, still believing in the impossible without the ability to do a single thing to attempt it. The Captain is like this. I believe I am the only thing his cloud has ever touched. Why me? I’m sure he has his reasons. I have my theory that I will impart to you if you stay with me through to the end.
But this story is not about the clouds. It’s about the wisps. The objects and ideas left imprinted by the past. The sword we found on our second journey was one. I am hoping this paper is another. As soon as we touched that sword on that lonely northern beach, we felt it. Some more than others. I think William got it the worst. Even before our first trip was docked, he was worried about us splitting up. I’ll 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 didn’t seem to have felt it at all though I must say in all the years I’ve known her, I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt one of her wisps. So there we were. Standing in the sand and snow – listening to the waves and whales existing in the distance, each letting the wisp of that sword ash over us. That sword no one wanted. Alone in that moment, even together, we all felt abandoned.
I don’t fathom I’ll ever be able to articulate what those first few excursions meant to me. I’d never been a full member of a team like ours. There had certainly been times when I had worked with others but never as an equal participant. I had always lived slightly over or slightly under, but always outside the groups to whose ranks I most desired entry. That secret desire, more than anything else fuels my hope that this object I’m composing this very moment will carry my intentions onward past me. Belonging – the treasure I seek most above all, and as The Captain assures me, the one I will never attain. As you continue into my tale, you will see how I tried to hang on to that sense of kinship only to find my efforts pushing me farther away. It’s most likely that these very pages are seditiously working to do the same and leave me more alone than I am even now. But it’s all I can do. I have my memories to show me what is possible. And my hope that it might one day be present again.
The seas behind and before you always shine with a different colour than the ones you are currently inhabiting. It’s 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 what the waves ahead may offer. 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. My elders 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 we brought home. Not the first treasure since the sword, but the first time since when we encountered a wisp of someone who had past. This wisp was one of love, of companionship, of trust. Yet in some way, this made me even sadder and more alone than the sword. Because even with all the love coursing through it, this ring had been left behind. Of course, as I write this, The Captain is suggesting that perhaps the ring was left so that 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 behind.
He’s a strange man, The Captain. I didn’t begin sailing under him until other sailors began seeking my mind. Over the years we’ve made many voyages together though we have parted company on more than a few instances. He possessed – or is possessed by, I’m not sure – an atmosphere of endlessness. When climates are at their bleakest, he manages to remind 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 don’t 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 have 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 wasn’t long before the memory of our adventure was the only lasting connection. The love in the ring had been replaced.
It has been many years since that expedition. The fragment of the ring still sits on my desk. 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 within its silver. The rest of my days, it sits there, old and dusty. A reminder of the mistakes we made. Sometimes people ask what it is. I usually don’t answer. 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 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 one of my story is the most noticeable of all. A sketch. The last time we seven were together. Not for a purpose other than to remember the expeditions and try to pretend for a few shining hours that we were still the strangers we once were. In that moment, an image was formed and in the seeming ages since, I’ve 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 don’t note 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 didn’t see it at the time, I’m not sure any of us did. And I don’t know if we do now. Maybe I was too late to the realisation, maybe I’m first and the others will feel it too one day. I don’t know, but looking at the sketch now, one thing holds true in my mind and gives me hope. We can not only find the wisps left by others, we have the power to create them for others to find.
So now, you sit there, having reached the end of my wisp.
This was the thought that echoed through my body every day for the past year. 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 sails and even the planks of the ship and the long mourning cry of lost sea gulls make me yearn for the 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 is high 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 the wisps. It’s time I whispered back.
Here is my hope:
I hope that this yarn has reached you in its entirety. I hope that somehow in my rambles of misstrung words, something of my intentions broke through.
I hope that whoever you are, you open yourself to the 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 currently have in your hands and eyes and ears. An intention that you don’t 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 a meaningful person – 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 world 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 wave upon the rocks. They are unbearably simple to overlook but if you do, you may find yourself where I am. Where The Captain is. Alone and abandoned. Not physically. A life not intentionally shared is not a life worth living. I only wish I had known that before I lived it.
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 penetrate me, but the feeling stops at the surface. I’ve 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 won’t 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.
© 2015 by Eric Hackler