Patroniser

By: Chase Mrakovich

During my Junior year of high school I started to socialize a little more than I was used to, mostly because my friends at the time were so active and talked to a lot of people, especially girls. I suppose I thought of myself as lesser then, I don’t know. I was insecure. My focus up to that point had been sports and my grades and drawing in my free time, usually in the Summer. After I’d gotten my (second) car (after the accident) and started to grow into my body – redesigning my look and all – dating started to sound appealing.

At the end of every day in the second semester, one of my favorite teachers taught a Creative Writing class, and that’s when I started piecing together what I wanted for myself in the daily journal we were assigned.  I’d found whom I thought was my soulmate at the time, I had been making money from my part time job in utilities, I genuinely enjoyed writing and I had a little bit of independence for once. Although my grades were consistently above average, halfway into the last semester I would skip school often to smoke weed or get food and kick back at home before my mother got home. I would forge notes and write her autograph at the bottom of a scrap of paper. They’d always take it at the reception desk in the school office, no questions asked. The creative writing teacher probably wondered where I disappeared to, but she never asked either. When I reflect on that year, I can say that despite how busy I was and how lazy I seemed, all of my relationships were strong.

Nobody tells you that eventually people chip away like paint in real life. They slip right through your fingers, the ones that aren’t big enough. Aren’t important enough. Some odd thing changes either for everyone else or for you and the world seems to shrink entirely, to turn upside down and revolve differently until it seems like you just don’t exist the way you did before. Where that exact point was located on my timeline, I can’t say accurately; only that it was after Junior year, and that it was progressive.

I promise to tell you about where I am now, but you’re going to need a little more context first, otherwise you won’t understand what I’m trying to say.

I suppose I should start with the first real self aware thought I had in sixth grade on the bus. The route was unchanging, the times of each stop predictable, as were the faces of every student that walked between the seats, turning abruptly to drop into a random spot and lose themselves into the privacy of the windows. My view was the parking lot of the elementary school nextdoor, sweeping past the window frame, occasionally a dreary looking kid would slug to the front of the building. I don’t know what brought on the thought, perhaps it was that kid or the mood of every other passenger, but I wondered what people would do if I died. If something were to happen, who would show up to the funeral? Who would be devastated? Then I considered the rest of the world, how it would keep turning. Classes would continue to be held, I would never meet my girlfriend, or my second car, things I didn’t know about yet might not happen and you know what? Everyone would be okay with that. Even my family, though they’d grieve, would have to move on at some point. The whole existential attack. It was a lot at 7:30 in the morning, especially for a twelve year old.

A long hiss came from the bus, and our bodies moving with the momentum of the breaks signaled our arrival. For the rest of the day I did a pretty good job of avoiding the topic.

It’s worth mentioning, before we go any deeper into my history, that I was never suicidal. My father made it very clear that if one was to kill himself, they would be sentenced to Hell for eternity, but that wasn’t the only reason. I truly was never low enough to think that ending it was the right decision. Maybe I should also mention that throughout all of this, I’ve maintained my faith. Prayed to God, sometimes more often than others, but I always believed. My father deserves credit for that. If ever there was someone I felt I could turn to, it was God.

But I don’t want to make this about religion, because that’s not why I’m sharing this.

Just two years prior, my father had followed through with his second divorce, and we had moved from his friend’s spare bedroom into a house of his own in the middle of the suburbs. The place was old, the stairs creaked and the radiators kept our towels warm during my showers. We had made a habit of going to church on Sundays again. It became a bonding activity between my brother, my father and I. We would spend the rest of the day watching football, eating queso dip and playing video games. He had become our best friend, in a way, and we loved it.

About six months into that, my dad started dating again. He would bring a different girl around every few weeks, most of them were pretty and likable; some of them I never even saw. He had told us after the divorce that my brother and I were his priority, and that he would never put anybody before us. I could feel him start to slip away. Our nights no longer consisted of comic book movies and Star Wars. Instead it was cheesy reality television, upon the request of whichever woman tugged at his strings.

Then one day, when I’d met my dad at the hill next to the baseball field where he’d wait to pick me up after work, he unlocked his phone and showed me a photo of a cake. I didn’t know what I was looking at initially until I saw the writing in icing. He and his most recent girlfriend had returned from a trip to the Finger Lakes, where they’d spent an entire weekend “wine tasting”. The photo was taken during this trip, and the icing read “Will you marry me?” on it. I almost laughed. Whatever conversation we had afterwards was fake on my part. Me pretending to be happy for him, while inside I was furious.

In the years following, my brother and I had established our own pact while step brothers and sisters invaded our rooms. It literally felt like two different tribes were habitating the same, rickety old cave. Within two years, he had moved back into our mom’s condo, and I followed a year later. My father had another child with his third wife, and I stuck around for the beginning of her childhood, but I lasted as long as I could. That’s what I tell myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my father as well as my half sister, but I could never honestly say that about the others. The invaders.

There are major chapters in everyone’s life where the courses of their future are changed. Turning points, if you will. When I moved out of my father’s house, that was a pretty big transitional chapter, I guess. I moved out after my Junior year, in the Summer.

It started back then. My brewing anger. But it all came out when my dad found my marijuana stash in my backpack. He was pissed, deservedly, but he overreacted and so did I. He tried to ground me for the Summer. One of my last at home before I went off to college. We both said some things we wish we hadn’t, but after that I was gone. I drove to my mom’s, and came back in a month to collect the stuff I wanted most from my old room.

During the scorching days of July and August, I worked outside at the theme park near us, saving up for food and gas and dates with my girlfriend. Then I moved to the city, and discovered friends that were immediately closer than those from my hometown. We did everything together. Our newfound friend group got me through the tension caused by my girlfriend, still at home. They’d make me laugh and offer me something to smoke after upsetting Facetime calls in the stairwell of the dorms. I’d spend an hour or so listening to her problems, which were becoming more and more benign, then sit in silence for a few minutes before changing back into my usual, personable self. The one that made friends. In the daytime, I’d go to class and spend countless hours in the studios making work.

At the end of my first year at college, I came home in May to see my brother graduate. He was four years older, and commuted to a university and had just completed all the necessary credits for a sociology degree. The day seemed like a conclusion for a lot of things. That’s why I decided to break up with my girlfriend, while I was in town. It was also mother’s day, and the day of her last dance recital. In hindsight, I was a dick for choosing that day to end things, but to be fair, I had spent the previous days trying to get her to come over, since I hadn’t seen her in months, but she was always too busy. Plus, I was never allowed at her place because her father had no idea we were together.

Regardless, that was another milestone that altered my attitude drastically. Once I was single again, and this time unemployed, I spent the days wandering around my mother’s basement, keeping movies playing on Netflix while I kept my drinking and smoking discrete. Although my mother had a much more laissez faire outlook on marijuana, she didn’t like me smoking in the house, and she certainly would not have loved that I drank as much as I did. My brother had his graduation party, and most of my family came (except for my dad and his family, obviously) and I got piss drunk and played Jenga with my grandma. All the while, none of them knew I was hurting inside. I kept a pretty good poker face. Once I was back down in the basement, though, when everyone was asleep and I was alone again, I cried. Then wake up the next day and repeat. Over and over, that Summer was full of heartache and longing and ignorance and depression. I don’t know if I can say that was a turning point, necessarily, but it was undoubtedly my lowest point thus far.

To be continued…

Gold in Potter County

By: Chase Mrakovich

I had to have been twelve or so when my grandmother asked if I wanted to join her and my grandfather on their biweekly trip to “The Farm”. For years I’d heard about this routine and every time I would imagine the stereotypical flat landscapes and empty horizons punctuated by a few hay bails or something. Maybe a huge red and white barn. Animals and that awful smell, for sure. But most of all I always assumed the place would be boring. Void of any modern form of entertainment that my brother and I had grown so accustomed to, and it was likely to seem more like a prison sentence than a Summer vacation. I knew it was hours away, too, and I’d never driven that long before. As far as twelve year-olds go, I was pretty impatient.

What changed my mind was my grandfather. Technically he was my mother’s step-father, but to me he was just “Pappy”, my grandfather. Pappy was tall and balding with starched white hair at his temples and a bright, defining mustache that I learned hid a hairlip scar from a racing accident when he was a teenager. He was reserved, but not in an off-putting kind of way. Pappy was smart and strong because he’d seen a lot and done a lot, just as you’d assume a man in his sixties should. Plus, he was funny. I’m naturally drawn to funny people.

I’d always looked up to him and did what he said. So when he suggested I come, telling me it was where he’d grown up, something curious occurred to me: I knew very little about him. Aside from seeing his trucker hats bob around my grandma’s house, I didn’t know what else he’d done in his life other than drive eighteen wheelers. Mimi (my grandma) was a master chef, thanks to her Italian roots, though not by profession. Mimi worked at the medical center in town, she liked helping people. I started to think of it as a definite way to avoid doing something athletic during Summer, so I agreed to go. It was a four hour drive, we’d be leaving early, bringing their two puggles along and I’d only be gone for a week. I slept in my grandma’s spare bedroom until 4:00 am, when it was time to load the truck. In my backpack I brought a sketchbook, just in case I got bored.

Within those four hours I sat through a half-sleepy fog of looping classical country songs and conversations with Mimi. I don’t remember what we talked about because it was so early, and I likely dozed off more than once. Eventually, we reached the halfway point, which embodied a small diner just off a major highway heading north in Pennsylvania. It was called “The Turkey Ranch” and to this day, I’ve never had a hot chocolate better than the one I drank that morning. I think I ordered a standard two-dippy-egg-bacon-and-grits-combo, and that was delicious, too, but the hot chocolate was to die for. Once we fueled up at the truck stop adjacent and let the dogs do their business, we hit the road again.

Dolly Parton belted about her work day and Billy Ray Cyrus expressed heartbreak decades before his daughter would. In the meantime, I sat in the backseat, drawing Batman on my pad that fumbled on every pothole.

I don’t think I was aware of how conscious I actually was at the time. It’s one of those funny things; the specifics of nostalgic memories that are brought to life with just the right dose of context. Even writing it now, I am picturing images I haven’t thought of in years.

At some point, we took an exit and moved into the territory I expected to see all along. Natural colored patches canvassed the hills, complemented by cotton ball clouds that drifted few and far between. The farmers’ decaying houses speckled here and there, completing the landscape. Pappy’s truck strolled over paths of asphalt that had become much thinner, making the vehicle feel like a tank, and I gazed out the window. The elevation was increasing, I could tell. My ears popped more often while monstrous trees surrounded us and reached into a perfect sky. Another twenty minutes on the winding route, the businesses were getting scarce. I saw a long, flat ice cream parlor from the fifties that was still open. Nobody was in line. A few more minutes, advertised inside a petting zoo gift shop was dreamcatcher clothing and hats that read “Potter County” over the brim. Five more minutes and we were passing a tiny sign. “Welcome to the town of Gold” it said. Next came a general store with no name (the irony), then we turned onto a driveway next to what seemed like a random one of the old decaying houses. It turned out we’d arrived. This was Pappy’s childhood home.

When I jumped from the pickup, I saw the farm for the first time. Ahead of me was the rickety boards and glass that held together the house. There was a tall, empty silo next to a fatigued red barn with an iron rooster pointing due north on the roof. Behind it all hid a small pond and mountains of forest as far as I could see.

“This is all your farm?” I asked.

“Yep,” Pappy confirmed in his short and efficient manner, “One hundred and fifty acres.” I turned around me, where he pointed and saw endless green.

He explained it was inherited from his father, whom I’d never met. All around me was his land. This was what he looked at when he was my age, I thought. Right there, in the middle of nowhere, PA. His property line stretched across all kinds of directions, but the neighbor’s farm was only about a hundred yards from the house, fenced at the perimeter with barbed wire. It kept their horses from escaping, I was told.

That same day, I was handed a distressed tee-shirt with a single breast pocket (one of Pappy’s that was too small) and was put to work. First, while Mimi simultaneously handled the housekeeping and lunch, Pappy showed me how to work his riding mower and I trimmed the overgrown lawn that connected the house to the barbed fence. It wasn’t much responsibility, but for a twelve year-old, it sure seemed like it. There was much more to do, though, and I quickly experienced what it took to maintain the old farm. Using my grandma’s Kubota (or the “putt-putt”, she liked to call it because it resembled a golf cart), we pulled Pappy’s wood splitting machine out from the huge barn doors, which chipped away the burgundy paint at the touch, and spent an entire evening hauling fallen trees out from the forest, chainsawing them into pieces and subsequently splitting them for firewood back home. Then Mimi would call us back into the old house, where we’d spend an hour or two eating and talking. Pappy was silent most of the time, but when he did speak it was to crack a joke or tell me a fact about the area. I was fascinated.

The next project involved deconstructing a massive trash heap of broken cinder and watering troughs that was once used for cattle. Pappy said the farm used to keep cows. Hours were spent ripping apart the pile, throwing pieces of it into his yellow tractor to then be disposed of in a pit nearby, where he said he would burn it. I was in charge of taking the smaller loads to the pit using the Putt-Putt. At one point I cut my foot on a rusty nail, and worried about Tetanus before accepting the fact that the wound really was nothing. At lunch there was BLTs and more chit-chat.

On the days we weren’t working, late in the evening, we’d drive the Putt-Putt to the highest hill, where we took turns looking out across the land with binoculars, trying to catch glimpses of wildlife. Occasionally I’d see some deer. Once I saw a buck standing ahead of our trail. Another time, through the binoculars, we watched a black bear climb up a gap in the forest on the opposite hillside. When we took a closer look later, we saw he’d clawed some of the telephone towers to mark his territory. Mimi and Pappy sat up front and I in the back, listening to nothing but the sound of cicadas and birds. It was the first time in my life that I experienced peace. I’d always been an antsy kid – I still am today – but back then, I was forced to keep quiet and just watch. It was beautiful, and pure.

On the way back down the hill, they let me drive (the Kubota was weird. It didn’t drive like a car would. You’d have to use both feet for the pedals, because when you took your foot off the gas, the thing would stop altogether, which eventually made me look like an idiot when I went to test-drive my friend’s Jeep). It was great. At night, after a perfect dinner a la Mimi, we’d watch a Nascar race in their cluttered living room, where I slept on the couch (I fucking hated Nascar, by the way. And country music for that matter). Behind the couch was a bookshelf with stacks of coffee-table art books that I’d flip through before bed. Mimi let me keep one cataloging Norman Rockwell’s work. Mimi played Candy Crush on her ancient laptop when it first came out. She was on the wave before most. Pappy, on the other hand, would sit in their bedroom next to her in the back of the house, which opened up on three sides to windows facing the backyard and the pond, and he would sip coffee until he was ready to fall asleep. The mug has become iconic: a dozen different fonts all saying “Boss” in a different way. “Chief”, “Supervisor” and “Head Honcho” were some of them. It fit his personality somehow.

I never really did much drawing during my visit. I remember finishing the picture of Batman, sketching out the dogs once, and the barn another time. During one of our lunches, Pappy pointed out an oversized flower basket with so many different plants I couldn’t tell you what they were. Only that they were plastic. Above it, on the wall, hung a drawing he said his mother did that looked exactly like it. He then proceeded to tell me she drew that before the plants ever even arrived. They were a gift my grandpa had received some time later. I thought it was amazing, and I admired his mother’s sense of realism and color. Below that, propped in dusty little frames, were pictures of a young man in a navy uniform, yellowed from time and light exposure. When I asked who that was, Pappy said it was him. Before then, I never knew he served in the military.

I also learned that while Pappy and I were outside working during the day, Mimi was inside restoring the kitchen little by little. On my second trip up there I was tasked with helping renovate some of the crumbling foundation of the house. This was the following Summer, when I had actually asked to join them on their trip to the farm. During this visit, we jackhammered the front porch and pulled stones out of the basement so that Pappy could replace them with something stronger later. I thought the living room would collapse but it never did. Somewhere out there is a picture of me crouching beneath the entryway, looking like I was holding up the house by myself. In more recent years, they’ve renovated the bathroom as well, and most of the old decrepit structure has been remodeled. What still remains is the barn full of swallows, the shimmering pond out back, where herons would creep and ducks would skid across, and the rest of the hundred fifty acres of uninterrupted nature. That’s what Pappy would watch in the evenings when there wasn’t Nascar. He’d search for any sign of wildlife.

I’m remembering now, the silo that I first saw upon my arrival had apparently always been empty. Pappy said he used to have a dog that would run in and out of a little square cut-out at the base of the silo, and that was fun for me to imagine for some reason.

“That was his house, and this was ours,” he smiled at me, his mustache stretching wider than I thought it could go as he pointed to the basement, clearly visible from the front of the house at this point.

Another evening activity that my grandma liked to join in on was target practice in the woods. Pappy had a collection of hunting rifles, and Mimi had just gotten her concealed-carrier license and was looking to test out her new piece. We’d take the Kubota up the same path (leaving the dogs behind again, of course), set up a cardboard box some thirty or forty yards away, tape a target with crosshairs to it, aim for the center and shoot away. The explosions of each gun was different, as were the recoils, and it hurt everyone’s ears except Pappy’s. He was used to it. Then we’d label our fresh shots with a marker to see who was the closest to bullseye. It was always Pappy. Since then, we’ve joked about the fact that my grandma felt the need to buy a gun in the first place, calling her “Pistol-Packin’ Mimi”.

One Summer, my mother and brother came with. I could tell they appreciated it as much as I did. It was hard not to, quite honestly. That Summer specifically, I remember the three of us walking down to the General Store to get ice cream. From the outside, I knew the place didn’t get much business outside of their locals, so we were definitely strangers. Turns out the place was only half of a general store. The other half, split literally down the middle in an open duplex, sat a television of cartoons and a group of children, no older than five or six. Strewn across the floor were toys and snack wrappers on the carpet. We pulled our popsicles and frozen candy bars from the colorful freezer in front of the register, paid and began walking back to the farm.

Each of my visits to Gold, Potter County I made sure to feed the neighbors’ horses. There were three of them. One was a sleek velvet black, another matte white with splashes of brown like birthmarks freckling its ribcage. The last was dark brown, his mane almost entirely black with a few strands of blonde. On the harness along his cheek was a metal piece reading “Triple E”, so that’s what I called him. That horse, though I’ve never had any particular interest in horses, really paid attention to me. I know it sounds silly, but he let me pet him, feed him, while the others bothered with each other and stood in the shade of the wooden structure housing their trough. When I saw them wandering around within the fence, I would call “Triple-E” and he and his friends would make their way over.

Even with all the labor, the farm provided solace that I’d never known. I was glad I’d finally accepted their suggestion; if I hadn’t I would never appreciate peace among nature the way I can now. The way I think of the farm as a part of my childhood – of me and my history – it’s like traveling through time. I love it.

Potential beginning for Story

By: Chase Mrakovich

Early Fall 2028

At every corner of the room there emerged a shadow, blending together until a vignette was created which framed three gentlemen in the basement of the empty country club beneath a dim green light. Two of them held pistols. The third lay doubled over in pain, sobbing while the others looked at each other and agreed in unison to finish the interrogation and get on with it. He was not the one they were after.

“Tell us about your buddy Frederick,” said the larger of the two. He was broad and pale, and wore thin glasses that shimmered green from above. His tone was maliciously soothing.

They were not police or detectives, as the man first guessed. Something told him his captors – the ones beating his face in with the grips of their guns – were working outside the law. Not that anyone really minded the law anymore. Ever since the beginning of the Neo 20’s, when the dollar began losing its value, people stopped caring about right and wrong. It wasn’t long before police precincts closed by the hundreds and people lost their sense of civility. Cities were the first to go, but Philadelphia was also the first to prosper again, like the Revolutionary period. All thanks to the old guy in the expensive suit asking questions. He owned the country club they were in now, where the carpet was staining with impressionistic flecks of blood.

“I…told…you. I…don’t…know…him,” the body coughed.

While he wriggled in tears and spit, the other man went back into the shadows for a moment to retrieve something. The interrogator with the rectangular glasses glared down at chips of broken teeth at his feet and shook his head. Behind him emerged his partner and a cell phone with a photo of someone the hostage recognized immediately. He struggled through lightning waves of pain as he protested, shouting “No!” repeatedly, but the confines of the wooden basement suffocated each scream. Nobody would come to help, he knew that by now. Least of all, Frederick.

“It’s real simple. Just tell us what you know about him and we’re square. Nobody gets hurt.” Patterns of wrinkles pronounced themselves under the lenses. It was an intimidating face. Rugged. Mean from experience. He was definitely old, but somewhat powerful in the way he carried himself.

The hostage rose to his knees, swaying for a few seconds and mulling over his options before conceding. He told the men everything he knew. He told them about Frederick’s job. The backpack and cash. The Motel. Marcus. The apartments. Both of them. Every detail came stuttering from his mouth with intermittent coughs and moans. When all was said, the partner of the old man patted his boss’s shoulder to punctuate the confession. The reflecting highlights on the glasses disappeared from the room, leaving them in silence. The beaten man held his breath for what he hoped would never come. Outside, a wide silhouette pushed through the entrance of the club and there was a suppressed pop from the caverns of the old building. The old man walked across the narrow parking lot next to the highway and stopped as he opened his car door, looking once more that night at the skyscrapers of Philadelphia, where he’d be worming into soon. Where he’d saved the city from crumbling into hell not so long ago.

The Stowaway (Short Story pt.4)

By: Chase Mrakovich

Excerpts from journal entries on board Panamax 447 for American Steel

May 11, 2017

(Day 39)

At the cemetery, when I would spend all day and night polishing the tombstones and digging into the dirt to make space for the recently deceased, at least there was nobody around to bully me. I could walk anywhere I wanted. Even down the long highway to the general store or wherever. As long as I was back by the end of the shift and I’d done my part.

Back then the pay was great, the hours were flexible and, in hindsight, I was much happier. Often, when the weather was nice and the sun made the sky look like a vast gradient of colors, I’d sit at the bench far away from the office building. It was the only structure to exist other than the mausoleums of the dead and I wanted to be nowhere near it. The traffic on the highway was scarce and I felt…good. It was nice to have true solitude, even amongst the lifeless bodies. Some people would’ve found it creepy, I know, but to me it was serenity. I smoked a couple cigarettes, watch the sun rise or set and enjoy the quiet. For years this was my routine and those moments were highlights. My brother, who’d spent much of his younger life in the navy, told me the camaraderie that came with forcing a group of people together on a boat and throwing them out into the middle of the map was invaluable. He said too much time alone was bad for me, and the cemetery job wasn’t helping.

Now, as I slung pounds of fish across the deck and witnessed grown men show their bare asses to each other in attempt at comedy, I realize just how easy I had it then. And just how fucking wrong my brother had been. I would trade that life for this one in a heartbeat, and it was amazing to me that none of the other men felt this way. If they did, it went unspoken. A taboo topic in the company of neanderthals with too much pride.

That’s exactly why I’ve kept this journal private. It’s sat nestled inside my bag since the day I arrived and it hasn’t moved save for when I’m writing. Usually before bed. This book has been therapy for me, because there was no way in hell I was saying a word to any of them about how uncomfortable I was this entire time. Especially not now, knowing the stowaway story was all bullshit.

That’s right. The rest of the crew made the entire thing up. Or, at least they retold it their own way, if other versions of the story were told to them during their first days on board by the dickheads who taught them how to be.

The guy from the bunk, really the only one to speak to me, was the one to break the news. He made sure to hype up everyone else, too, which added to my embarrassment. He told me to follow him down into the bottom hull of the inside of the boat. I did as he said, and I knew something was wrong because all the lights in the wide section of the ship had been turned out.

“Keep going,” he said, his voice noticeably further behind me than it was before. As I turned to look at him, a flash of movement brushed past my shoulder. I swung around again, this time greeted by whom I thought was the stowaway just yesterday when I was brushing my teeth. He screamed at me, then started howling laughing. The guy who’d brought me in laughed, too.

For a few seconds I stood there confused. And when the stowaway ripped away the long fake beard and wiped his face with the back of his hand, I saw it was the other crew member from the top bunk, and I finally understood I was the butt of the joke. They were fucking with me. It pissed me off and they just laughed away.

July 30, 2017

(Day 119)

This will be my last journal entry for this trip. To my surprise, I’ve filled up almost every page. This one being the last. It seems like ages ago since I started writing in this on my first day of the voyage.

If I told you before that I resented joining these screwballs on a giant industrial ship assigned to me at random, I was wrong. These guys, the ones I once thought hated me just for being here ended up becoming my friends. I see now that I was just resistant, like I’d always been.

After the whole stowaway prank, I’d actually lashed out at the two guys who started it. One of them calmed me down, offered me a beer and told me it was a tradition. The beard disguise was very old and kind of gross when I looked at it up close. They said they did it to everyone. It was initiation. Each day after that got progressively better and better. The other guys started talking to me and making sarcastic jokes at my expense, which I knew they only did with each other, and this let me know they were cool with me. That I was finally in.

After a few months abroad, I think I’ve changed my mind about returning home for my old job. I think I’ll stick around the sea for awhile.

The Stowaway (Short Story pt.3)

By: Chase Mrakovich

Excerpts from journal entries on board Panamax 447 for American Steel

April 29, 2017

(Day 27)

Today the captain came to my quarters to personally apologize for the mishap the other day. I wondered what took him so long.

He said he was sorry for the injury, and asked if any one of the crew was teasing me about it. He was well aware I was the new guy, and he sympathized with me. “We’ve all been there,” the captain said. “Honestly, you seem to be getting along pretty well aside from all this. Just keep your chin up, Greenhorn.” Then he left just as abruptly as the other guy. “Good luck,” he said on the way out.

I realized afterward that this all had to be a formality. He had to say something otherwise American Steel’s Human Resources department would be all over his ass when we got back to shore. This didn’t phase me. Not like what the other guy left me with. What did he mean by that? When he told me they knew I’d been spying and “…so does he”? It felt like a ghost story. The guys trying to fuck around. After almost a month at sea you’d think they’d be used to me by now.

I’m determined, though. The next time I get word of anything regarding that stowaway story, some questions will need answered.

May 4, 2017

(Day 32)

Well, I’ve never felt more alienated in my life.

The guy that visited me – the one from the bunk – mentioned something yesterday about the stowaway while we reeled in crates of fish for dinner. He said it was about time he’d found a new home. Although I was near the other side of the crate, I heard him clear as day. So, as I vowed, I asked him to elaborate.

When I did, everyone stopped and looked at me in unison. Almost coordinated, it was fucking creepy. Nobody has spoken to me since then and it’s making my anxiety worse.

Although the only company we had for the next few months was each other and the sea, I was now by myself. I’m starting not to care anymore about whoever the stowaway is. I would rather they talk to me. I would rather we be arguing or fighting and actually communicating than this. This is miserable.

May 9, 2017

(Day 37)

My shoulder is healing fine, not that anybody cares. Captain’s letting me slack some of my custodial duties in the meantime. Everything’s been humdrum.

Except for this morning. Something really strange happened. When I dropped my feet to the cold floor of the ship’s cabin, there was a rustling sound coming from underneath my bunk. I assumed it was an animal, a rat or something. Must have snuck on board during one of our stops. I reached for my flashlight and shone it under the mattress, but there was nothing there. And everything looked untouched. It was bizarre.

I wanted more than anything to be back home with my family. I’d rather be digging graves like I used to than work on a boat any longer. Since we left the port I’ve regretted taking this job. I know at first I seemed optimistic but I’ve always doubted this job. As soon as we’re back I’m quitting. It’s decided.

May 10, 2017

(Day 38)

I saw him. The stowaway.

I don’t know if I was just imagining it from spending so much time alone, but he looked real. He had to be real.

It was while I was brushing my teeth just twenty minutes ago. He walked right past me in the mirror, locking his eyes with mine in the reflection. Somehow, I recognized him immediately. He was exactly as they described. Skinny, young, really long beard and a peculiar savage look to him. Like he hadn’t eaten in days. I couldn’t believe he was still on board. They must have known about him, maybe they were keeping him here. I don’t know. At least now I knew it wasn’t a joke.

I didn’t know what to do, I just stood there, frozen. The stowaway kept moving.

When I looked around the corner of the door, toothbrush sticking out of the corner of my mouth, he was gone. What made me question what I’d seen was that there was only one room at the end of the hallway, and it was mine. I walked back to it as slow as possible and, again, totally empty.

Tomorrow I’m gonna wanna tell someone, and no one’s gonna wanna listen.

The Stowaway (Short Story pt.2)

By: Chase Mrakovich

Excerpts from journal entries on board Panamax 447 for American Steel

April 18, 2017

(Day 16)

Nobody’s spoken about the stowaway since that night. And if they had, they made sure I wasn’t around to eavesdrop. I will admit, since that conversation, I couldn’t stop thinking about the mysterious man. During the early mornings and throughout my shift, the forefront of my mind focuses more on occupational duties than the legendary character, but still, my imagination can’t help running rampant.

It was astounding, all I really knew about him was that he was young, deaf, cold, dirty and hungry. Anybody would’ve been starving if they’d been lost at sea for…well I don’t know how long. Could’ve been days, maybe months. All this ambiguity made me want more.

Every time I eat now I think about him. How he probably forced mountains of fish and canned beans in his face. It made me lose my appetite.

April 24, 2017

(Day 22)

Today I’m recovering from a dislocated shoulder. Yesterday one of the giant rusted hooks that are used to lift the storage crates swung right into me pretty hard. Ten meters high in the operator’s box, nobody worked the crane that was attached to the hook. It was completely empty. And there were no high winds, no accidental mishaps with the machine. It wasn’t even on. Just out of nowhere the thing invaded my peripheral and then there’s a sudden pain on my entire right side, and I’m down. Still conscious, but knocked over. I tried hard to fight back the tears. Nobody willing to live a life at sea ever cries, unless a family member dies or you lose a limb maybe. Especially a Greenhorn. So, I hardened my shell and got it set back into place at the med bay.

Luckily I’m left-handed. The other guys made a few masturbation comments that weren’t really funny when I said that out loud.

April 25, 2017

(Day 23)

One of the guys from the bunk conversation the other night came to visit. One I’ve never really talked to directly, which was weird. But I realized quickly why he’d come.

Rather than wish me well or any of that, he just leaned close to the bed I laid in and whispered “We know you’ve been spying on us, kid.” I was startled at first, but then he moved away and turned toward the door with the porthole, letting me relax. Before he opened it though, he said, “and so does he.”

I haven’t slept at all tonight.

The Stowaway (Short Story pt.1)

By: Chase Mrakovich

Excerpts from journal entries on board Panamax 447 for American Steel

April 7, 2017

(Day 5)

From what I hear murmured in the cabins of the vessel we now travel on – carrying nothing more than industrial cargo across continents and back again, as well as our sorry asses – the man they discovered knocking against the seaboard side of the ship was deaf. When they called out to the man he heard nothing. Just kept jabbing the boat with a huge tree branch. They say he couldn’t have been older than 25, but that’s just what I hear. I only recently arrived on deck. “Greenhorn,” they call me.

It happened a few years back, and most of the crew from that time has moved on, but those who stuck around don’t talk about it except to each other. The captain instructed them to drop the ladder and guide him up. He told some to grab blankets and any extra clothing they brought along, and others he directed towards assembling food for the poor kid. At the time, I was digging graves at cemetery in my hometown but that’s hardly relevant. I’m here now and I’m trying desperately to piece together the story from conversations heard through fiberglass walls.

Aside from the sex jokes that keeps everybody creative and on their toes, and maybe some of the scenery, there wasn’t all that much to find interesting about this job. Hauling cargo crates. I didn’t know what I expected when I signed on but all I really wanted was solitude. Like the graveyard but without all the ghosts. And for the most part, I’ve gotten it. Finding out what happened quickly became an obsession for me.

April 15, 2017

(Day 13)

I’m starting to think the other crew members have gotten used to me. At lunch yesterday I cracked a pretty good joke and almost everyone started howling. Though a few of them started looking at each other like they hadn’t heard or didn’t understand. I don’t remember what I said but it was one of those one -liners that I timed perfectly.

Nobody’s gone out of their way to reach out individually, but I know if I want to find out more about the deaf stowaway, I had to get somewhat close to one of them.

I will say, I overheard a crew mate a few beds down the cabin hissing down to one of the men I’d seen gossiping about this before. He mentioned that he didn’t understand how someone could survive that long alone and without fresh water. It was impossible. They spoke for a while about water sanitation methods and I listened more for the good parts. The one on the bottom bunk said it would have been a lot easier if he could hear. “Or if one of us spoke sign language,” the other said.

As they continued, I delicately snuck onto the cold iron floor, and shuffled closer towards the head, near their bunks. Just in case I got caught and needed an excuse.

They talked about the massive amounts of food he’d eaten – I mean I probably would’ve eaten just as much if I’d been stranded at sea for however long – and about his odd, primitive-like behavior. Then they started on where he might be now. Ever since they did what they did. One of them must have become aware of my presence and told his friend to go back to sleep. “I think someone’s listening,” he said.

I’m writing this now, in my bunk, literally minutes afterward. Tomorrow I might do some digging.

… (to be continued next week)

Upcoming Thesis Show

By: Chase Mrakovich

As this is my last semester at Temple and my college experience is coming to an end, the Seniors in the BFA program must present a Thesis show that is the culmination of our artistic education and practice. I have been anticipating this since I first visited art schools and had the chance to see thesis exhibitions at schools like West Chester, Millersville, and of course the Tyler School of Art at Temple. I knew going into it that I would need to have a cohesive story structure for my show, and lately I’ve been curating my work based on a concept that I first started to explore last semester: intermissions.

What I mean by this is that I’ve noticed, mostly when traveling or between destinations, that I am most aware of myself and my surroundings when I am in the intermittent periods of life. It’s in these moments that I take photos and gather inspiration for the subject matter of my art, and my thesis will be about highlighting the feelings I experience during those times.

Some of my work can incorporate this context and some cannot. It’s at this point that I’m trying to decide which pieces I should include that fit the context, show my technical growth in the printmaking mediums, and progress the narrative of the show. This is my first time curating my own show so it’s been exciting but also a little intimidating. I am also planning on making three large-scale pieces that will tie everything together, and I am already working in the beginning stages of the first one.

Something I’ve noticed about how I write about my art compared to how I make art is that when I’m writing it can feel like I’m overexplaining, or trying to represent the context literally, which is not the purpose of visual art. At least not mine. I prefer there be a bit of mystery to my thesis, but I’m also aware that too much mystery confuses people. With art, if one isn’t alway well-versed in how to talk about art there can be a disconnect if the work isn’t literal or representational. The struggle is finding out how to connect just enough dots for the audience to finish the rest with their imagination. It’s not a bad struggle though. It’s a good challenge.

Over the weekend I read a great article called “A Disdain for the Discrete: How Art Transcends Logic and Language” by Venkat Ramanan. In it, he describes that there are limitations to language that can be overcome in art. The article is very detailed about artist’s intentions and how they are able to convey meaning differently than writers. I think that’s why I’m having a little trouble putting my art into words. It’s because what I make isn’t always determined by whether or not I can explain it fully. Artists rely on the audience to complete the meaning but it will always be different than how the creator sees the work.

Week in Review

By: Chase Mrakovich

Over the past week I’ve continued reading The Spirit and the assigned readings. On Thursday I presented my summary and questions of George Saunders’s “The Perfect Gerbil” where he dissects the short (very short) story “The School”. Within that Saunders writes about how the author of a narrative has a responsibility to keep the audience entertained throughout the rising action of the plot, and how that piece of the puzzle is the most difficult to write successfully. As discussed in class, most of us believed that Saunders was correct in his conclusion, and that Barthelme’s methods (the author of “The School”) are examples of how to achieve the rising action. How to elevate the story up until the very end, no matter how bizarre the subject matter may seem. The execution is essentially what’s the most impactful.

Within my own fiction writing I have noticed that the most fun parts to write are the characters, the situations they stumble into and how they eventually connect or twist together to create a story. Fundamentally though, I will admit that establishing the details of the characters and what objectively happens to them is far easier than trying to keep the prose fresh and the reader hooked. As I read back through some of the early parts of my stories, I can see clearly that there aren’t any of what Saunders calls “gas stations” (referring to the Hot Wheels toy track that keeps propelling the car forward). I need to include more benchmarks that keep the writing from getting too dull and informative.

Creating names and dialogue have been distracting me from developing plot points that push the story forward, but I will say that I have taken pleasure in writing, then stepping away from it for a while to let me think about it. I like envisioning what could happen. Sometimes at night, before I fall asleep, I consider my characters and where they’re at in the story compared to everything else and I contemplate all the possibilities of how they could come together; how they can interact and how I can get readers to care about them. The act of writing itself is meditative and fleshing out the first draft (which I prefer to do by hand) is the first step to creating a piece of writing that I’ve learned is worthwhile.

So I think it’s fair to say I’m enjoying the creative process.

Hello ~World~

By Chase Mrakovich

My experience with fiction as a reader has most recently been revolving around science fiction and graphic novels, as I have been reading the Southern Reach series by Jeff Vandermeer and Will Eisner’s classics like The Spirit. I mostly read fiction novels; last year I read one semi non-fiction book that was the influence for The Irishman film, and I enjoy reading stories that have good character development, a well-structured plot with prominent themes and usually a good twist keeps me entertained. Most of what I read has been books that have influenced movies because I am such a big fan of cinema. Over the Summers, I read a James Bond novel each year (last was Moonraker, next is Diamonds are Forever) and my favorite novel of all time has to be The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Though it took me over three months to read, the story of Theo Decker and his relationship to the titular painting helped me through a turbulent period in my life, and Tartt’s prose was so smooth I bought another book by her: The Secret History, which I’m looking forward to reading.

All my life I have grown up reading and collecting comic books, so much so that their sequential art form has inspired me to become an artist. Among my favorite comic stories are The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Moon Knight by Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood, and the Dark Victory trilogy released by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Over Winter break I read My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris, which I also highly recommend.There are a number of other titles in my collection that I love, most of which are superhero related, but I could go on and on and after a while you’d just be reading a list.

Let’s move on.

As a writer, the only exposure I’ve had these days has been working on a personal graphic novel project that I started at the beginning of the pandemic. In the past I have written journal entries into my sketchbook along with conceptual ideas that were needed throughout the BFA program at Tyler. In high school I took a creative writing class and we were given a lot of poetry assignments, which I enjoyed. I have written countless formal essays for Art History classes alongside other college courses, but I haven’t deeply experimented with creative writing until last year. Since I’ve started writing though, I try to write three or four days out of the week, though it became inconsistent over the Fall. I’m hoping to get in more time to write daily to sharpen my craft and to find my voice. I want to know how to keep a reader entertained, how to create depth in character and how to use language to shape the story’s emotion. That is why I took this course during my last semester at Temple.

After looking through the syllabus, I can say that I am most interested in reading Flat and Round Characters, Character Motivation, What is a Scene?, Shitty First Drafts, and The Perfect Gerbil. Like I said, I wish to know more about how to develop characters in my own writing, I recognize that the initial drafts will be very very rough, and I’ve read Tenth of December and liked George Saunders’s short stories so I’m looking forward to reading his work again. As far as any nerves I have about the class, I would say that I’m hesitant to include hyper-personal anecdotes, but I am not afraid of it. I realize that in order for writing to have any validity, there needs to be some sort of truth written into it.