Gracchus Syndrome

(The following was originally published on  on November 20, 2013.  Each Version editorial item adheres to the following formal constraint: a maximum of 500 words, 5 images, or 50 seconds.)

It’s been fifteen years since Patrik’s suicide in his apartment. I still wait for him. His possible return from the dead in the beaver swamp remains unauthenticated. Whatever evidence there was, is now gone. The motive for his return may’ve been a suitcase he left with me filled with diagrams and sketches for future projects. This would be dear to Patrik. He had little else. Since then I have been diagnosed with Gracchus syndrome or the inability to allow the dead to cross over to the land behind the North Wind. The dead remain in this world, appearing in dreams, at the edges of a room, and occasionally in public venues. It was very common after the Great War. The name of the syndrome comes from a study done by Franz Kafka for the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute on a soldier named Gracchus from German Bohemia who fell to his death from a mountain on the Italian front, but afterwards was seen touring the countryside. Witnesses confirmed the appearance. He was regarded as a saint. It was an insurance nightmare. On October 24, he appeared simultaneously at points across the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In some, Gracchus appeared in a motorcade riding a motorcycle, others in a seagoing vessel, and in a few, in an airplane. Kafka chronicled each of these for the Institute. From this he produced the short story “The Hunter Gracchus.” The soldier, now a hunter traveled from one town to another. He didn’t appear in multiples across space. He was a dignified saint. Max Brod, Kafka’s friend thought this was a manifestation of Kafka’s own resentment at being unable to multiply himself. He envied Gracchus’s freedom. Brod points to the earlier short story “The Metamorphosis” as evidence in which a traveling salesman becomes a beetle. If only he had turned into a superorganism like an ant hill, a termite mound, or a swarm of bees Brod pointed out; then the metamorphosis would be complete. He could’ve appeared as 100 beetles simultaneously and escaped the confines of his own life. Instead the salesman died trapped in his parent’s apartment. No one grieved. The suitcase ended up with me in Buffalo New York, a center of supernatural activity dating back to the 19th century and the Fox sisters. It’s a strange outpost for Patrik. However much he admired coldness as an aesthetic, he detested frigid temperatures. But the ruins of buildings hunkering on the landscape like dinosaurs would have appealed to him. Within a half-mile of my apartment is an abandoned insane asylum. It appeared in one of his works on shock doctors. He would’ve been pleased by this turn of fate and that his work circled the building like a cluster of moons. In this orbit I began the task of bringing Patrik’s plans to fruition. This resulted in a book and the emergence of another symptom. As Patrik appeared, I disappeared in equal proportions. By October 24, I will be eclipsed by the rising Patrik.


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