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Phantasm

As usual, Eric Åminnelse is exhausted by the droning monotony of his life. It is like an emphatic hum, deep in his head, a soundtrack of dull static to accompany reality. He considers the persistent lack of self-reflection of his fellow creatures on this green and blue bouncy-ball, almost comical if it weren’t so tragic. Will they ever learn?, Eric wonders. He observes the multifarious nature of Man; exploring, moving forward, creating, and inventing, but rarely reflecting. Eric, on the other hand prefers to reconstruct the past. He enjoys the geometrical simplicity of arranging and re-arranging the pellucid building blocks of memory, rediscovering the treasured marvels of the past, rather than racing into an unknown future.

Now however, Eric thinks of his family’s former farm in northern Sweden. On mid- summer, a furious storm breaks out over the countryside. The lake near his house works itself into a frothy mixture of water lilies and twigs, and his apple tree loses its apples. Looking out through the antique warped glass of the parlor window, Eric sees the ephemeral flowers in the garden, hysterically dancing in the twisting wind. However, this old house is sturdy and firm, and withholds the elemental assault. But Eric remains uncertain, frightened by the cacophonous rope-like wraiths clawing at the shingles of his roof. He shuffles in his grandfather’s sealskin slippers, through the study, and notices the collection of poetry. Eric remembers his grandfather’s praise of William Butler Yeats’ poem, A Memory of Youth, and still recalls his favorite line, “this hand alone, like some last courtier at a gypsy camping-place babbling of fallen majesty, records what's gone.” Eric steps through his parents’ bedroom door, its silk panel crinkled with age. He curls into their rough-woven quilt, allowing the comfort of his position to settle his fears. He hears the rhythmic tick-tock, of the nautical clock below; its resonating sound reverberates through the thin floorboards in a steady meter. This at least is timeless; the sound of this clock spans centuries. He thinks of his grandfather, sea captain and merchant. In this fashion, he descends into a deep, tenebrous sleep, eyes and ears closed to the specters outside.
Like a straining bulldozer, a vexatious bump knocks Eric awake. He sits on the subway, on his way to the Real T’s pickle plant in the city. He is the master pickler: carrots, beets, turnips, green beans, fiddleheads, asparagus, and of course cucumbers. Sometimes, Eric sits with his jars of preserved vegetables for hours, ruminating upon the ingredients of life, and the eternal enigma of preserved memories. He looks out of the brightly lit interior of the subway car. The enveloping blackness of the tunnel seems to apply pressure to its bones and girders.
A scintillating blaze of geometric patterns falls into place like a childhood puzzle, and he remembers walking through the forest surrounding the family farm in autumn. The leaves rustle in rustic hues, from floral vermilion, to charred russet. They seem to murmur to Eric, natural, comforting, innocent. He passes the brook, the birds, and a giant anthill. The forest is so peaceful, Eric thinks with some regret. He hears the razor whine of chainsaws from the sawmill several miles off.

He is jolted back to the present by the subway doors opening. After grabbing his satchel, he slips between the doors and trudges up the stairs to the surface. The sky is slate grey, steam escaping from the subway grate. Through the mist, Eric makes out the ghostly outline of a 19th century schooner. Eric shakes his head to clear it, and hurries to the building where he works, near the docks. The smell here is sour; like sweat, old photographic negatives, and dirty laundry. The door’s creak gristles like an old man’s arthritic knees.

He is immersed once again in the refreshing pool of memory. This time he is farther back than he has ever remembered before. For some reason, this memory seems to have a waiflike quality, suffused by a brittle, golden edge. He can’t see clearly through the radiance, though he does notice the smell of well-oiled leather, and the musky moldiness of old novels. Instantly he recognizes the elements by which he remembers his grandfather. And with this awareness, other senses and emotions begin to diffuse through the aged recollection; the terrifying joy of being vaulted through the air by his grandfather, and the sight of the snow-capped peaks of the Jotunheim mountain range.

Eric Åminnelse’s cell phone rings. Ring-ring-ring-ring. He fumbles in his jacket pockets trying to locate it; by the time he finds it he realizes that he does not feel like talking, and ignores the call. He strides swiftly down the hall. Oddly, there is not a soul in sight. Eric could have been on a remote arctic island, and perhaps would have preferred it. The biting cold would cut through his muddled thoughts; silence the inexhaustible buzz of life. He sees the door at the end of the hall, with the Real T’s pickle mascot waving cheerfully at him. His upper lip moves involuntarily upward.

He is in the attic of his childhood. Dust particles hang suspended, confined within a sunbeam, drifting lazily past the small window. This memory turns sepia, as if it is a moving picture stained with age. Eric skittles through the compact crawl space to explore the other lost relics within the mysteries of the loft. He listens to the reassuring hum of the house as he moves through the attic. Cobwebs hang scattered from the roof beams. He thinks they seem to capture the sunlight and sparkle. Besides the spiders, other eyes seem to peer out at Eric from his childish superstitions. Old cartwheels, and clocks lie in their final burial ground, as well as farm tools, and former tax ledgers. Eventually his eyes come to rest on his grandfather’s old sea chest. The name Ander’s Åminnelse is painted in red on the front of the chest. A tarnished lock holds the chest tightly closed. Eric sighs, believing that the wonders the sea chest might hold are eternally lost.

Stubbing his toe on an elevated surface, Eric resurfaces. He sees the beckoning door waiting for him at the end of the long hallway, and can’t wait to be alone with his pickles,

Flash. Eric is once more standing in front of the old sea chest, though he feels older now; the pleasant light is fading, though still visible around the edges. The sense of poignant gloom that had infiltrated his thoughts is now gone, replaced with a sense of determination. A key is in his hand, which Eric now remembers having found in a box in his father’s study. He is not too old to still feel a hungry curiosity as to the contents of the chest. He strokes the smooth metal lock, which winks at Eric, seemingly inviting him to examine its intangible artifacts. He inserts the key cautiously, as if afraid to animate the phantasms residing within.
The chest opens smoothly, smoother than Eric could possibly have expected. He gazes into the box, expecting to see souvenirs from the Seven Seas or other childhood musings, but instead finds many sheaves of paper. Disappointed, Eric reaches his hand into the chest and begins to read.
April 3rd 1897
To one who has never experienced the endless joy of the sea, they are disadvantaged. The sea is an eternal cycle of constant motion, and in some ways it can never change. I expect that the sea of the Greek navigators was the same as the sea I am sailing upon at the moment. It allows me freedom and escape from the boorish nature of land-life. The waves swell up and down, the seagulls cry, the porpoises jump, and will continue to do so ‘till the end of time. I sometimes feel as though I could sail on the sea with them, till the sun itself bursts into flame…
Eric finishes reading and voraciously reaches for another diary entry, which explains in further depth the sense of liberty that accompanies the sea. He relishes this connection with the grandfather he never knew; but on some level, after reading his writing, he feels quite familiar.
Eric realizes that his next memory is only the recollection of a dream. He is running through the fields of his farmhouse. The grass reaches to his waist, the sun warms his skin, and the smell of innocence pervades the air. Eric remembers choking with laughter at the simple purity of the moment. He streaks through the meadow faster, and faster, until he reaches such speeds that he appears only as a young blur against the world around him. He now soars over the Swedish countryside, rocketing along at such velocity that the birds in the sky, avoid him. He notices a large cobweb ahead of him, somehow hanging mid-air, by the hand of Eric’s imagination. Eric dodges the sticky strands of silk that the spider has woven. He avoids them, and keeps on flying. The ocean stretches out beneath Eric like a perpetual sunset, stunning in it’s beauty, but heavy with the knowledge of the end of day. Eric continues to glide. Presently, Eric comes to an Island, where pickled vegetables grow. He alights upon the familiar shore, and relaxes in the luscious bog. The peat moss spreads over his body, and preserves the memory of the boy who is Eric in this archipelago of remembrance.
Every second lasts a million years. Eric inches his way to the silk paneled door with the Real T’s pickles mascot. The air feels like sweet molasses to his bitter limbs. He reaches his spindly fingers to the well-worn knob. “I see you’ve made the right choice,” remarks his grandfather from behind him, Eric’s omniscient doppelgänger. He smells the salty tang of the sea, and the brackish scent of pickling. Eric opens the door to the farm house from long ago, and stepped inside...





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