Patrik Sampler 2017-02-25T12:07:00+00:00

Patrik Sampler

The Ocean Container: Novel Excerpts

The following passages are excerpted from The Ocean Container, to be published in 2017 by Ninebark Press. For updates, visit ninebarkpress.org or patriksampler.com.

Something Else

As further evidence the world is changing, I hear (I’m not sure where, but I know it’s true) that somewhere another internet is under construction. On this fledgling internet, ideas are traded without third party permission. Alternative currencies circumvent transit hubs. I’m thinking about how this might affect the current regime, and I’m moving toward a possible answer. I think something is about to change.

Through the ocean container, I travel down a spiral tunnel to the bottom of something like a very deep boat or a floating city—something self-contained. I follow the tunnel without turning back, and come up next to the same point at which I entered. I think the path down might be the same as the path up: the tunnel’s descending and ascending segments seem to be interlocked—like the shared yet divided home of fraternal twin gastropods. Perhaps anywhere along the route I can push through and cross over.

I take this image, and now I think…what I’m thinking now is not an interlocking path, or an interlocking world. This time I’m thinking of liquid—liquid filling a mould cavity. Not because it wants to mimic the shape of the mould cavity—a medium with its own currents and transmissions—but to circumvent these currents and transmissions. Like an insulating substance filling the spaces of an electrified metal mould cavity. Ceramic, perhaps, waiting patiently for the metal to rust away. In the meantime, it becomes something else that—while it cannot destroy the barriers in which it is caught—can exist undetected.

It is a message, and I start to really feel what holds the current regime together: nothing you can touch. It’s an electric charge of fear crossing back and forth over lines of synapses. To be sure, it manifests concretely: infrastructure is built or destroyed, carpet bombs are scattered, every possible substance is sucked out of the ground into which whole forests sink, never to be recovered. People around you do as they’re told, and you’re without a home or a passport. Perhaps you end up in a safety compound.

Fear, however, is a utility without price, and a commodity no one desires—not intrinsically. It’s a Sisyphean carrot at the end of a stick—a carrot that evaporates when one doesn’t play by the rules. And it’s driven by nothing more than numbers—not numbers, but graphic numerals—flickering on a screen.

I’m thinking of a way to escape this—to escape this nothing—and I am reminded of the city in which I have spent most of my life. I think of my ability to trace distinct routes each time I pass through it. I could spend a lifetime in that city, never tracing the same path twice, even through all previous destinations. And those who designed the city—and those who follow the main routes—might think that, if they wait for me at exactly the places I have been, I will return inevitably. But why should I?

It is possible the grid roads are built on nothing, and other routes—other foundations—can be built around them. Perhaps they are being built now. I see the old roads, the old grid—the ephemeral mould cast—evaporating quickly. Even more quickly than the speed at which metal rusts. The grid might dissipate, revealing what is currently undetected, what is connected now only tenuously.

I know we will soon be able to feel for these connections as if through a cloth barrier. All of us will soon find another pushing through from the other side. Hands will touch through a barrier, sensing the pulse of the other.

If we are patient, we will find a spot where the fabric has worn through.

In Transit

Once again, my ocean container changes, and I am certain now my comrades have saved me. Soon I will be reunited with my loved ones—and just in time. Perhaps I can start eating again. I need a change of clothes, too. The elbows of my sweater have worn through. My jeans are very loose now, and give off an unpleasant odour.

When I meet my loved ones after all these months—and once I have made myself more presentable—Yoshiko will of course be glad to see me. Perhaps Stevie will at first be confused—but within moments he’ll remember who I am. A smile will emerge on his face, and then he’ll run to me, yelling, “Da…da…da…!” Perhaps his language will be far more developed than that. Will he call me “papa” or “daddy”? Yoshiko will put her arms around both of us and say: “Now we are three. Let us never be apart again.” Soon after we’ll get jobs and build a house in the country, on stilts to avoid floodwater. It will be designed for passive cooling and have a green roof—by which I mean a garden on the roof.

I know I am in transit now because I hear a resonant, mechanical sound. An engine. Surely it is the engine of a very large boat, and I am on it. I imagine a container vessel in the middle of the North Pacific, surrounded by a vast surface of water that stretches uninterrupted to the horizon in every direction. I don’t know the weather, but the ship is an almost flourescent blue—it could stand out against any maritime background. The same blue as an alpine glacier lake on a sunny morning at the height of summer. It might be called chalfonte blue, like the colour of a 1956 Buick Special—in case you have never seen, and from this point in history can never see, a lake of such colour. The boat is immense. Perhaps it is the Emma Maersk, to this day the largest container ship ever built. It can carry 11,000 standard units, of which my container is just one.

If someone were to spy my container on the deck (presuming it were on the deck, with the identification code hidden), it would be very hard to reach. It would be like choosing a tree on a distant, forested mountain, then trying to walk to it. From inside a forest, without a vantage point (or an identification code, which trees do not have), such a task would be almost impossible.

Even more impressive is that they found a place for me in this specific container, sparsely packed (so I have room to move) with just one item of merchandise. I am travelling with a kind of recreational watercraft commonly known as a jet ski—a special order, custom made for a client in Yokohama. I know this because there is also a package of documents including an owner’s manual and a letter to a “Mr. O—” that starts: “Congratulations on purchasing your new 5000cc Sea-Doo GTX Unlimited Thruster.”

Upstairs, in the superstructure of the ship, I imagine a crew indifferent to this and other items of merchandise. They might be in the lounge watching videos about the sea, or monitoring the engine as it burns 14,000 litres of heavy fuel oil per hour. I can hear the engine clearly, so perhaps I am very deep in the hull. Is it possible I’m below the waterline?

I consider the vastness of the ocean. The Emma Maersk is alone here, exactly in the middle of the Pacific, with no other human-made points of reference. To be sure, one could argue the ocean itself is human-made—or at least modified by human activity. It has acidified. Numerous species are now extinct or near extinction because they can no longer grow exoskeletons. A billionaire has pumped iron into it. There are dead zones, where almost nothing lives. How deep is the ocean? How deep is it where I am now? There are perhaps three, four, maybe five kilometres beneath this ship. Am I over a dead zone? If not, there must be something living. And because I can’t see outside this container, I listen.

A Song

To distinguish individual sounds in a background of noise, one must concentrate. Musicians have found that when playing the same note or chord over and over again at a steady rate, audiences are apt to leave within ten minutes. Those who stay, however, often report hearing new sounds within the repetition—which is how I’m listening to this boat. Its engine has a main sound. It’s the most obvious sound the engine makes. One notices it immediately, but it changes after listening for hours and hours on end, as I have. Now I can hear overtones, multiple overtones, and anomalies, too. Some of these anomalous sounds are from the engine itself: if it ran perfectly, predictably and always, the ship wouldn’t need a crew.

But there are other sounds, and because I have listened to the engine for so long, I now can distinguish its sounds from other sounds around it. I can hear individual waves slapping against the hull, a tuna swishing its muscular tail, or a cormorant diving through the ocean’s surface. What’s more, I can hear these sounds not just as they happen, but even as they reverberate through the ocean for years after. That’s how sensitive I have become.

I hear, too, something I can’t identify—a tonal, moaning sound that starts and stops and has its own narrative arc. It seems familiar even though I am hearing it for the first time, and I wonder why I haven’t noticed it until now. Has it been playing in the background all my life, so constantly that it’s no more apparent than the flavour of water? I’ve always thought such a thing could be possible—that there might be a song that’s always been playing and is so ubiquitous that one no longer hears it.

I’m quite certain now I have uncovered this invisible song. It might be an esoteric song, or it might be the same for everyone—I’m not sure. In any case, it seems like a whale song but much faster—like the recording of a large whale sped up so that it sounds like a small whale. And perhaps that is exactly what it is: the song of a small whale.

A tiny whale, even. A tiny little blue whale, just two metres long.

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