Chapter 1        

            The next day, Unless and Until spent the morning engrossed in chores. Until thought the kitchen needed a good scrubbing and had been working at it for some time while Unless was cutting back the vines that crept in through the fence in the front yard. Unless had just uprooted a particularly troublesome tendril when they noticed a deliveryman approaching the gate.
            “Hello there,” they said, and set their trowel down against a fencepost.
            The deliveryman nodded slightly in acknowledgment of the greeting and then studied the top of the package he carried. Unless waited. After a few minutes, the deliveryman looked at them, “Parties addressed as ‘Unless and Until?’”
            “Yes. This is our house. We live here.”
            “OK, If you say so.” With that, the deliveryman handed the package over the gate to Unless and set off back toward town.
            Unless examined the package. It was wrapped in brown paper and twine and Unless was immediately excited to recognize Carl’s haphazard scrawl on the address. No wonder the deliveryman was so uncertain. Unless was also pleased that the package had arrived so quickly after they and Until had finished looking at their last picture. The easel was still standing in the front room, empty, and Unless thought the package from Carl was big enough to contain another picture or some wonder that could be a new project.
            Unless wiped their feet carefully and then carried the package through the open doorway, nudged the door closed as they passed, and entered the front room. “Until! A deliveryman has come - here is a package from Carl!”
            Until quickly stowed their scrub brush and bucket and hurried to the front room, “That is wonderful! What has he sent?”
            “We must open it and see,” said Unless.
            Unless put the package down on a low table and began working at the twine with their claws. It did not take long. Until took the brown paper and the scraps of twine and tossed them in the kindling bin. Unwrapped, the package was revealed to be a torn cardboard box, clearly re-used many times. The top was not sealed, and the box flaps sprung open to show a painting that Unless and Until both found very strange and startling. They each looked at the painting, then looked at each other, then looked back at the painting.
            Until said, “I suppose we should put it on the easel.”
            Unless agreed, “That is the best thing.”
            When the painting was out of the box and on the easel, they were both relieved to see that there were other things in the box and that the project of deciphering this strange new painting could be put off a little while.
            The first things they each noticed in the box were little caps, each one embroidered with a name: “Unless” and “Until.” The caps were otherwise plain, except for slits where their ears could come through. “How thoughtful of Carl,” remarked Until, “it terrible trouble finding a hat that is comfortable over ears. Who would have thought.”
            They each tried on their new caps and admired each other in turn. Until put their cap away in their room, to keep it from getting dusty, but Unless decided to wear their cap for a while. There were two more items in the box. One was a strange black block with markings and buttons and the other was a little pamphlet. Unless picked up the pamphlet and sat down on the loveseat with Until so they could study it together. It contained instructions on how to use the black block. Unless and Until puzzled through the pamphlet. It was past lunch time and both were very hungry, but both were too excited to wait any longer.
            Unless put the pamphlet back in the box, picked up the black block, and brought it over to the love seat. Just as described in the pamphlet, there was a little button that said “PLAY.” Unless pushed it, and Carl’s voice began to come out of the block. Both were astonished.
            Carl’s voice was saying, “Dear Less and Til. I hope this gets to you with the hats and the picture I made you. I have thought of you often since I set out and I don’t think I have stayed anyplace that welcomed me the way you two did in all this time. Just the same, though, I am well and have been having a good time on the land just exploring and finding all kinds of new things I never saw in all my years as a sailor. You can just see in that picture I sent you – I know you two like pictures – it turns out you can be a landsman without tight shoes and silky ties. You can be any kind of thing and wear comfortable clothes, and you can stay on the move just like a sailor on a ship. Don’t even need the wind to change the way you want it, either. And here, I got a song for you two:”
            Unless and Until looked at each other, still astonished, and both were stifling happy laughter at hearing how Carl was faring out on the land. After a pause, his voice came out of the black block again, singing with his kalimba.

            I went to sea so long ago
            and learned the things that sailors know
            I knew that out there in the sea
            were all the things could ever be

            I knew that here upon the land
            was no place for a sailor’s hand
            My skin was rough, my legs were strong
            I knew the sea is never wrong

            But I have learned that there is more
            Beyond the sands that heap the shore
            There’s roads and folks and things to see
            That never were out on the sea

            *** click here for Carl's Song of Land ***

            “There you go, Less and Til, that’s my song for you about how I used to be a sailor and now I wander around on the land. Just as you two surely know, there’s all kinds of wonderful things out here. I’ll send another parcel sometime, let you know how I’m doing, hope things are good there. All the best, Carl.”
            Shortly after Carl’s voice stopped coming out of the block, the PLAY button clicked, and Unless and Until stared at the block as it whirred for a while and clicked again. Unless pushed the PLAY button, and the whole message played again. Until’s stomach rumbled.
            “We should eat lunch,” they said.
            Unless agreed, “Let’s leave the picture for now and have lunch, and then come back.” They put the block in the box with the pamphlet and left it in the front room. Until served some cold roast and green salad, and both Unless and Until were much preoccupied with Carl’s message as they ate. The message device was a marvel in itself.
            “It is a picture of Carl’s life on the land, and not anywhere we’ve been at all, isn’t that right?” asked Unless.
            “It doesn’t seem anything else could be,” answered Until, “We’ll have to hang it in the front hall, near the door, so we can remember Carl out in the world on his own travels.”
            Unless was a little surprised that Until was willing to hang this strange picture so close to the front door, but they were very fond of Carl, too, and agreed it would be a fitting place for his picture.

*** next chapter >>

Image: Julie Püttgen, Cloudmapping: Allegory of Rebirth. Gouache, watercolor, and pencil, 12x16", 2008.
Text & Lyrics: JS van Buskirk
Music: James R. Carlson
Animation: Matt Gilbert