What does it mean to be Blue?
The rain came down in sheets of blue and grey, upon streets of grey,
and blue men with bowed heads. None of them met my eyes. They just
walked along the silent street, in the blue shadows cast by mighty
What does it mean to sing the Blues?
The streetlamps were dark. No cars passed by. The only source of
bright color was sunbeams through gaps in the clouds, but the gaps were
far, far away, and never came close enough to matter.
What do my people mean when they say, "you haven't suffered"?
How, after all, would they know if a single person had suffered or not?
The water flowed in great blue streams to the gutters. In certain
places the street was more stream than pavement. Those who crossed splashed through the streams without any heed
to the state of their shoes. Occasionally they sank to the knee, or the
waist, or the neck, in the great puddles. Perhaps those had been
potholes once. Now they were sinkholes. Ha ha ha. Ha.
Some of them who sunk did not come out again.
But they are not talking about you singular. They are talking
about you plural. Your people haven't suffered, mine have. My people are
Blue, and yours are not.
Now that I observed the road more closely, I noticed that, where the
asphalt was visible, there seemed to be more cracks and holes than there
were smooth patches. Where there were stores, half of them were boarded
up. Where there were houses, their porches sagged and their paint
My people are hurting, Pat. They have been hurting a long time.
Oh, a very long time. They came to me long ago, seeking prosperity and
freedom, and all they got was --
"Something as bad as what they fled. I know the history. But I'm really very disappointed, you know, because if this is really Blue Chicago, where's the music?"
"Don't tell me you forgot to dream of the music?"
No, no, it's just...indoors. Where it's dry. Playing trumpet is hell when you're in the rain.
"Dry indoors, is that right? So why is there water leaking out of every doorframe?"
"I get the metaphor, alright? But it's just...you can't tell me that my people have no hope and no power. Human beings are never without hope or power. Almost never. And, you know, part of playing the Blues is to save one's heart from going completely cold in the pouring rain. It's a way to express pain. Do none of these people on the street here know how to play the Blues?"
Would that get them out of this place?
"Blue Chicago is your dream. Presumably it's some kind of side-pocket dimension that they can't leave unless they, I don't know, find the secret back door of the House of Blues or something.
Dang, you guessed how to get here in the first place. But I'm not talking about getting out of this shade of the dream. I'm just talking about getting past the Hedge.
I spied a glint, a flash of
light in the dark city. It was moving down the sidewalk, on the other
side of the street. "Excuse me, I have to check this out."
What are you checking out?
I didn't answer, but stepped into the stream. The water flowed pretty
strong around my ankles and I was almost swept off my feet, but I kept
moving, kept splashing. Forward. Chasing the glint of light down the
road. Suddenly NOT forward because I had fallen right into one of those potholes very narrow lakes. It took me a while to
struggle out of that thing, but I could still see the glinting light in
the distance, so I kept going.
What are you running after?
I had made it to maybe three feet from the curb when I discovered
that the stream between me and the sidewalk was a very narrow and very
deep river. On the one hand, this was a boon, because now I was being
swept along as quickly as the light seemed to be moving. But by the same
token, I was moving just too fast to hold on to the curb, and occasionally I couldn't reach it because the current dragged me under water. I did not want to be dragged underwater. The
few times I was, I could see skeletons glowing green in the blackness.
Not all of the bodies were fully decomposed and some people were still
struggling, trapped by unlucky prominences and cracks and unable to get
their heads above water. Could I save them? If I stopped to save them, I
might lose the ring -- ah, but I was past them already.
Breaching the surface again I reached for the curb. Strong hands
grabbed mine and hauled me out of the water. More than one pair, as a
matter of fact. That was pretty dangerous water to try to save someone
And the glinting light was just running out of sight.
I ran, then, towards the light, and as I gained upon it the thing became more clear: a golden ring, rolling.
And it was rolling straight towards a very tall hedge.
And I didn't catch the ring in time to stop it from rolling under.
And this was a very thorny hedge.
"Jeez," I said, "as if you didn't add enough symbolism to this dream. First the rain, then the ring, then a wall of thorns..."
I didn't add any ring to this dream.
"Tell me...is it bright and sunny on the other side of this thing?"
The air is clear of rain and the streets are paved. That's something.
"So how do I get through?"
Oh, well, why don't you find out for yourself?
Buried in the mud was a lightly rusted machete. I think if was a
machete. I'd never actually held one before so I couldn't be certain,
but, eh, long chopping blade, call it what you will. It chopped well
enough. I was able to clear enough branches to get to where the ring had
gone, and I retrieved it before it sank into the mud.
As soon as my fingers touched the ring, I heard another voice, saying, well, mister Garlic Swamp, you're so worried about your people. What about mine, eh?
Oh, you scruffy grey beast. Isn't it enough that your avatar has gathered the misfits around him into a dangerous neighborhood?
I thought he was your avatar.
Oh, he isn't yours? But that Ronald Blump guy is. I'm disappointed that you tried to rbing him here --
That man was NOT my idea!
Sure he wasn't. Look, I don't have the energy to focus on you and Pat here at the same time. Shuffle off to your plains and your mountains and leave me be.
The Holy People never treated me like this.
Oh yes they did. Later! Later! Pat, just keep making your way through the hedge here.
I put the ring in my pocket and resumed chopping and slashing my way forward. The thorn branches fell at
my feet, and the rain trickled down through the branches, and it was
nowhere dry, and nowhere warm, and as far as I went the rain did not
stop, and as far as I went I did not see daylight.
"All right, all right," I said, "how far does this stupid hedge go anyway?"
As if anyone has ever been able to find out.
"Tell me, then. If I was White, would I be dealing with this hedge?"
You would have the choice to try to dig through it, or to ignore it as you pleased. It would still be Blue Chicago, but...
"How do I get rid of this hedge?"
You may have to make a very hard choice. Or it might not be hard
at all. Depends on who you are, really. It would definitely be decisive...and it would free my power in this plane.
"But would that make it stop raining? Would it fix the streets?"
"There's more to Blue Chicago than your own power, my dear mister Garlic Swamp. And there's more to freeing people than tearing down walls. Now, let me out of this damn dream."
I found myself on a certain outdoor track. The fresh
breeze from the lake chilled me. For a second I thought I was soaked
from the rain, but one sniff told me that I was the source of the water.
Not that the day was dry - there were puddles everywhere. Out of one rose a cloaked figure.
"Sameer," I said, and realized that I was gasping for air.
"Pat," he said, "You're awake at last. Tell me, how does
one jog ten miles on a track while asleep? Can you teach me? The
outdoor track is SO boring. You run five miles and you go nowhere."
"Uh -- "
"Everyone else is inside finishing up weightlifting.
Coach didn't want to wake you up, though. he said he wanted to see how
far you could get. So he left me to keep and eye on you. Thanks for
helping me escape the weight room."
"And eye on me -- right -- well -- mister -- CIA -- Can you -- knock it -- off for once?"
"NSA, really. But I don't spy on you in your room or anything."
I folded my arms.
"Really! I don't! I mean I used to, but, you know, once
word of that gets out people get real snippy about it real quick,
so...I'd hate to lose you as a friend by violating your privacy or
anything. I was keeping an eye on your movements last night because...I
mean, you went into a fairly dangerous place alone that I couldn't go,
and Sean was worried, and Aurora was worried, and you know, how could we
stand to lose our new Exploration Buddy so quickly?"
"Does that mean you were keeping an eye on me all night? Do you know where I went after I fell asleep?"
"I kept watch after you left the infirmary. Once you got
to your Grandma's place I figured you'd fall asleep there, so I stopped
watching. So how the hell did you wind up here, on time for the morning
exercises, standing quite upright and jogging along with your eyes
"I, uh...maybe you could ask Jo about that. It's a long
story. Let's just say I don't enjoy falling asleep anymore. It's clearly
dangerous. I mean, if I wander into the dream world I can find -- "
I stuck my hand in my pocket. As my fingers brushed the
ring, my exhaustion vanished. I felt like I could run ten more miles,
And I heard a voice in my head, saying, Oh, mister
Garlic Swamp is so concerned about his people. What about mine? What can
you do? Maybe more than I can, girl. Keep wearing the ring and we can talk about the rest of this land --
I yanked my hand out of my pocket. "You know what, never mind what I found in the dream world."
Sameer raised an eyebrow. "What has it gots in its pocketses?"
"A bit of string. Today is Ontoscope class, right? That's at 10 AM. What time is it now?"
"9:50, but Instructor Hurley really would like to talk
to you sooner rather than later. As in, now if possible. Something about
being odd enough to warrant a thorough examination."
I stroked a non-existent beard. "Let's see...I can
either head to Ontoscope class and risk everyone learning that I don't
have any such lenses, or I can go to Instructor Hurley's office and risk
having him learn that I don't actually know how to do Wizard magic."
"Whoops, looks like I've spilled some of the beans. Not
all of them. That story can wait until after we visit Meyer's. Anyway,
if I do go to Instructor Hurley, he's likely to find out that I don't
actually own any Wizard Glasses either. Oops, there go some more beans.
But what did Aurore say? No more running. Hopefully I don't get my ears
Boxed or anything, but -- "
"No, that would be the
Director. Instructor Hurley is more subtle about his punishments. In
fact, he's so subtle nobody even knows if he gives punishments -- it's
just that bad students tend to trip and spill things or mess up their
manipulation of the Third Level after meeting with him. With sometimes
fatal consequences. But if you don't even know how to do Wizard
magic...oh boy. Look, Aurore and Sean and Me all know what it's like to
be a young person facing up to a more powerful older person with no help
from anyone. Aurore and Sean found each other eventually but I took a
while to get out of that situation. So while you head to Hurley, I'll
gather my bosom companions and we'll all back you up, how's that?"
"I...what happens if you skip class?"
worse than normal? I don't know. Please, Jo. We don't want you to trip
and spill things during tomorrow's debate class. Or get blown up or
"I'd be asking too much of you to -- "
I sighed. "Where's Jo?"
find her. Let's meet in front of your room and then we'll try to find
Instructor Hurley's office and we'll see if he lets us all in. How's
"I will owe you a favor. I'll owe you a lot of favors."
"And I would call in none of them, Pat. We're friends, and we help each other freely. No tallies of favors."
"But I've only known you for -- "
"I really would like to be your friend, Pat. I imagine you have a lot to teach me about...whatever the hell you did with that sidewalk, and what you did in New York, and -- "
"Fine. Let's get going."