blueful was originally presented as a distributed fiction lost among the noise of social networking and e-commerce websites. Readers who successfully navigated all forty-three links to the final segment chose one of two endings, which was mailed to them on a postcard. An archival edition of the experience will be maintained for as long as possible at blueful.textories.com.
blueful is also the introduction to Blue Lacuna, an interactive novel. An earlier and longer version was released as the "preludes" to that work. Presented here is the author's final prefered version.
You have always been different.
You're not sure just when it happened first. But you must have been young, before the worm rules of possible-or-not had burrowed through your mind, weakening and crumbling till only the familiar and mundane remained standing.
It must have been after the birthday party. Remember? Mother's friend gives you a watercolor set. He's scratched off the price tag but you know it's the cheapest one they sell: injection-molded ovals filled with colored powder, flaking and congealed, and a sad little brush. You're old enough to know the gift is for mother's benefit, not yours, and for days the yellow plastic case sits on an unused shelf, shrink-wrapped and sullen. But one lonely afternoon you rip it open. After five minutes, you're intrigued. After twenty, enthralled. And after an hour you know you that you are a painter, and always will be.
The stooped old man in the art shop. You remember. He tells you about different colors, different brushes, his faded blue sweater alive with staticy threads. You graduate to real paints, real brushes. He tousles your hair. "I used to know someone about your age," he likes to say, "who just loved to paint."
One day you make Mrs. Halloran cry. In the dead of January she asks the class to draw pictures of summer. Green and gold. You work all week. When you bring your painting in, she's kind at first, putting a hand on your head. "The assignment was to draw your own picture, sweetheart, not copy someone else's." Later she gets angry. "See me after class, so we can have a talk about lying." And after everyone else is gone, she thumbs her big art book in frustration. "I've seen this before. Raphael? Botticelli? I wish you would be honest and tell me where you got it."
So you stay late and draw another one, just for her, and when you are done, she cries.
Your memory of those days lies jumbled and fractured, a puzzle upended with each piece distinct but the bigger picture hopelessly muddled. Flash bulbs and stage lights and sweaty leather chairs. The stooped man from the art store on TV with a huge TV smile and a TV suit instead of a sweater. Mother's furiously animated phone conversations, smoking endlessly with one hand while twirling the twisted cord round and round her finger in the other. Suits and cigars and diamond rings and secret smiles and stern lectures and old men with frightening phony belly laughs and handshakes, always handshakes, and bottles of alcohol in emerald-green glass, two thirds empty, one overturned above a puddle of sticky sharp fumes. One night a man who smells like mouthwash and aftershave takes you away on a car ride. He says he is your father. He takes you away from the painting you're working on and you never see it again. You can still picture it, in every detail. You still know the exact brush stroke that needs to be made next.
The times you can paint are the ones you remember with clarity, remember with a rank vivid tang that rivals your perception of real moments, of presentness. Painting and memory are interdependent in your mind, stuck together like electricity and magnetism, impossible except in union.
You remember the grain on a wood-paneled floor in a windowed veranda, sunlight burning through glass as you breathe details into a landscape.
You remember the heavy presence of summer crickets, chaotic yet syncopated deep in the blood, as you mix colors in a dark basement studio.
You remember the lush glow of firelight on wet oils, the smell of cream paper drinking in dyed water, the splintery texture of a fine wood brush arousing your fingertips with warm physicality.
And you remember each painting, completely, in every detail.
There is no before in these memories, but all this must be before, if any moment in your life deserves to be the fulcrum of before and after.
All this was before you became a wayfarer.
People are frightened by the way you paint, by the fearsome intensity you throw at the canvas, mind and body and soul. You've never understood them. What other way should you live, than with fearsome intensity? How else to love than with every joule of energy in your bones and every amp of electricity in your brain? But no one is there to see or judge, the first time it happens.
You are alone with your painting and part of it, nerve and neuron, focused beyond focus not on the colors or brush strokes but the world behind them, the reality that casts them as shadows. Your focus sharpens, deeper and deeper: beyond the paints to surfaces and refractions, deeper and deeper: beyond the brushes to form and dimension, deeper and deeper: beyond even these to the trueness at their core. And then they are true, simply and completely. And you are true with them.
The paper, the brush, the paint, are gone, and you stand... where? Somewhere else. Not inside the painting, nothing so magic. You know at once that you merely became so focused on the reality behind your work that you became a part of it. Before you were somewhere, and now... you are somewhere else.
It is a purple somewhere else.
The shade is exactly what you mixed, orange and blues and hints of burnt yellow-gold. It fills the spaces between great white trees, trunks mottled with flaking, paper-thin skin far too small for your brush to have detailed and yet exactly as you intended.
You breathe. Fading tinglings fizzle through you. A billion microscopic aftershocks shake every cell in your body, as if the atoms in your blood must shiver off the strange and subtle differences of where you were, must settle into new patterns and the rhythms of subtly altered equations.
Oversized droplets fall too slowly from the sky, bright and milky jewel-green, to splash harmlessly off your outstretched hand, tiny curtains and spheres of phosphorescence arcing everywhere, momentary fluid anarchy. The strange tingles fade, and you breathe again with a thrill of wonder and delight. You laugh, and the sound rebounds through plum-cream forest.
And then something groans far off beyond the trees.
Branches snap and ragged breathing carries. The smell of something inhuman. A muttering of gangrenous syllables that twirl and skitter through the suddenly quiet forest.
And then it begins to hunt you.
You spend months in that purple world of danger and beauty curdled together, exploring, learning to survive, making friends, and always hiding from the things that haunt the forest.
But one night, your fingertips tingle. And you wonder if you can do it again.
How many worlds have you moved through, wayfarer? Will you ever stop moving?
Years pass. You learn the rules, not of prescription but simple fact. Nothing goes with you but things you've made. There is always a way forward. There is never a way back.
There are others like you: painters, poets, sculptors. Wayfaring is your word for it, but all of you call it something different. There are no secret teachers of your art, no hidden cities. You are not a people. For you cannot travel together, and but for brief and bittersweet meetings, you are always alone.
Sometimes you are pulled to each other across blue infinitudes, compelled to paint or sculpt or sing a world where another of your kind needs help. The Call. No one knows how it works, or why. But it does.
And this is your life. Adventure in the markets of exotic empires. Beauties and wonders beyond imagination. Jeweled spaceships, ancient tree-cities, great tame insect-horses, lava dancers, crystal clockwork, simple food, weary pilgrimages. You fly on huge and oil-slicked wings. You sluice red oceans. You wail with shadow-mourners and balloon through sentient rainbows, kissing the mist from your sunworn face.
If you can paint it you can live it. And you can paint anything.
When you tire of a world, and you always do, you find paints and brush and canvas, somehow, somewhere. And then you wayfare again.
You go mad, and regain sanity. You find love and lose it, then again, then again. You want to die and want to live and go months without knowing what you want or who you are.
And then, you meet Rume.
It's an icy somewhere, dotted with hardy villages clinging to the sides of skyscraping mountains heavy with snow. You journey through rolling alpine meadows dotted with tiny sugared wildflowers, hear the long, lonely call of great shaggy mammals echoing through rocky canyons, drink the ice-cold streams that trickle down smooth stones. Cold, and calm. It's what you need after dozens of worlds and millions of memories swirling through your head. Time to reflect, an exile from your gift, and the inevitable tragedy of living. Time to be alone.
But one morning you crest a rise and see a figure, standing on the edge of a cliff ringed by high snow-capped peaks and glacier-filled valleys. Your heart stops a moment, having thought yourself so far from the nameless villages as to have the wild to yourself.
The figure turns. And after long quiet moments, raises a hand in greeting.
On that high meadow under glaciers, strangely graceful hands pull back a fur-lined parka, revealing features that strike you almost physically. From the moment you see that face, you know or hope you can love and be loved by it, fiercely and no matter how briefly.
You begin to talk, in trickles then torrents, there on the cliff and later back at your ramshackle camp. Both your lifetimes have been spent wandering. Rume is no wayfarer, but has been to every corner of this frosty globe, aching always to discover more, and thrilling in the telling, the sharing with others. You are enthralled somehow by the words of this stranger, this poet; but above and beneath the flow of language something more profound osmoses. You wonder if perhaps the Call does not just join lone wayfarers, but makes all connections, shapes all meetings and partings under its great wing till none at all remain to happen by chance.
Over days, exploring together, a thousand observations, beautiful and scattered and transient as snowflakes on the verge of melting together into something beautiful: the lines of argument Rume cultivates into sudden stunning and insightful fruit; the laughter which flows so freely at the beauty in this brimful world; the giddying flush of growing attraction, stoked with the glorious knowledge of its return, cared for and amplified.
When you first make love to Rume, surrounded by that high mountain air, the unspoiled frost crystallizes on the outside of your blankets, and the steam from your breaths and bodies spills out past your heads and spirals upward to the stars, merged in one shapeless cloud of heat.
Weeks or months pass. You explore together ice-scraped passes and peaceful mountain towns filled with illiterate shopkeepers in deerskin suits and merchant families marveling over lace doilies from cities far away.
One night you meet a dying trapper, coughing his lungs out with mountain sickness. One of many things Rume has been is a healer, and so you stay a week to tend him, though all three of you know there is no cure.
The care with which Rume's hands minister over this stranger, the way Rume's face pinches in concern and care simply because someone is in need, is perhaps the moment you truly fall in love. And what you love about Rume, you suspect, is something you fear dead in yourself, something lost between worlds on your long, rootless sojourn.
On the trapper's last night, you both sit up with his waxy skin and burbling cough and bone-cold hands as he rants his way in and out of delirium, until a spell of calmness settles.
"There's a place in the mountains near here," he says, after a long stretch of silence, "in a hidden valley. A little lodge. Empty now." He looks at Rume, breathing shallowly, then at you. "It would be a good place to settle down," he says, "settle in. For the winter. If you're looking."
Rume puts a warm hand on his rapidly chilling one until he drifts off to sleep again, then moves it to your arm and rests it there, briefly. A simple thing, but that touch is so heavy with possibility and promise and temptation and potential that you have to step outside (settle down), take a walk in the breathless twilight of the arctic fall, try to stop your head (settle in) from spinning and see (if you're looking) what's inside it.
You walk for some time, leaving the hazy glow of the village lamplight far behind.
How many worlds...
A sudden commotion snaps you back to the present. A crash ahead; an animal snarl. Cautiously, you step forward into a clearing.
Something like wolf, feasting on a fresh kill: a shambling grey moose. It snarls as you step out of the trees, looks up with deep green eyes, but spooks and darts into the snow-covered pines, leaving you alone with its dying prey.
You watch the shaggy beast take its last few breaths, and then something tingles in your fingertips. The long bristles of the creature's tail. Plastic ovals. Your eyes will flick around the clearing in sudden realization. The creature's hide, dried and stretched. The bright yellow stamen of the meadow wildflowers, crushed into fluorescent paste. The crumbly red layers in the mossy hillsides that stain bedrolls crimson. Of course. Everything is here for you, wayfarer. Everything you need to move on.
And you cry, there in sight of the brown beast's blank dead eyes, cry for the first time in memory, tears freezing on your cheeks, snow melting into the knees of your warm traveling clothes. You cry for everything you've lost, everything you've given up, abandoned, left behind forever.
But also you wonder.
Must you go?
Could you stay?
Relentless, the blood seeps forward through the clean white snow, leaving bitter crimson slush behind.