Candyland labyrinth game

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[The bidding on this Significant Object, with story by Matthew Battles, has ended. Original price: 29 cents. Final price: $11.50.]

You had passed him at the entrance to the subway station countless times before, not so much sitting as thrown into the corner, his plump bulk indistinct beneath the rags he wore. What was different about this day? What changed conditions made you take notice of him? Was it some look in his eye, a trick of the light? But no, you’ve learned that there was nothing random about such days, when the cards flip and the world changes color. Or everything is random, but the deck was shuffled long ago — the moves determined, the game already played.

You caught a glimpse of his eye; his smile bubbled forth from the foul hood. The sounds of the street receded. “Pick a color,” he said with a strangely rich voice, a voice less like the barker than the circus itself. “Any color!”

“What?” you asked.

“Choose your color!” he replied. “Doesn’t matter which. Your favorite color. Whatever color catches your… your fancy! It will be the right one, I’m sure.”

You shuddered — and then simply, with a shrug, you said, “red.” The man drew from his pockets the small plastic box, the prism mapped with colored blocks and candycanes. He shook it slowly in the plane of the earth’s surface. As if sifting for some artifact. A smile hung in the depths of his hood, and the smile grew. Tiny figures darted up and down the rainbow trail, until the hand — dry, you noted, but somehow shockingly soft — the hand froze when the red man came to rest at the end of the trail. And with a seeming gust of wind (though nothing rustled, nothing shifted), the world went red (though nothing changed).

img_0927And now the little box was in your hands; the plump and shapeless man was gone. How had he so quickly transferred it to you? How did he make his vast bulk so thoroughly disappear? Questions that disappeared in a purple mist that faded to red, leaving you with the little rattle-box labyrinth and a growing deadness that flowed down your limbs and into your heart.

The world of acts and things became a rosy shadow. People swept along the sidewalk borne by what currents you knew not; they flowed right through you. Trucks trundled by without a rumble; music rang out soundlessly; the chess players in the courtyard were reduced to calculating clouds. What was vivid and solid, what was real, was invisible to them: candycane fences, molasses swamps, plumdrop trees that sprang up wherever you went. They alone had the power to dazzle — yet they lacked any sweetness; they did not nourish you in your entranced despondency. And so the years streamed on from red to green to yellow to blue. The bright limits of the old life — goals, friends, loved ones — were crowded out by colors that had been present from the dawn of things, determined by a turning of cards that was simple in its unwavering instantiation. For you it was only the turning of the years; the sweets without succor; the endless hopeless shaking of the box.

Until your recent deliverance! That revelation of holy oblivion, it occurred not long ago: there you sat by the turnstiles shaking the little maze-box when reason flooded your mind. The figures — are trapped inside — and yet their movements are — random! Undetermined by past events, with no bearing on the future! And with a clap the colors merged again, great annuary blocks of diffraction colliding and conceding one to another. The misty figures of passers-by resolved, and the flood of consequence rolled like unredeemed refreshment. And the strange talisman, the map of your unbecoming, became all it had ever been: a silly plaything, a game for unconsidered moments, freedom in the swerve. And so, do pass it on; its curse is broken.


Matthew Battles is the author of Library: An Unquiet History. His writing has appeared in the American Scholar, the Boston Globe, and the Wilson Quarterly. His next book, The Urge of the Letter, will be published by Norton in 2010.

8 thoughts on “Candyland labyrinth game

  1. This I wanted the minute I saw it. All those colors. Little guys. Pathways. A quest!! The visual details started lining themselves up in my head before they had even resolved to ideas, let alone words. Then I read the story. And inexorably, the possibilities submitted themselves to the plastic ouroboros and the narrative became a vortex and the present became the future, and the past, at once.

    See basically I don’t like old stuff so much. I mean sometimes. Especially if it has an interesting history. But new stuff is better. It’s not that it doesn’t have a story – it has the future! The story of the future: progress and possibilities and science fiction which just might be almost real by next month, I can check on the computer in my phone. And optimism! I’m not an optimist. But this object is. This is a seriously dangerous object. Maybe you think it’s silly: go ahead. *You’re the lightweight. I need it.

  2. With just under 3 days left to go, this item is now selling for $11.50 — starting price $0.29. So Matthew Battles’ story has multiplied the item’s value by a factor of one billion, or something like that. Bid!

  3. What I want to know is if you plan to ask the auction winners what made them pay more? Was it the story or did they really just want the item to begin with? Curious mind want to know!

  4. I’ve had a few exchanges with buyers, though nothing quite this direct. It’s a little tricky — I wouldn’t want to discourage bidders by making them think that they’d have to give us an explanation.

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that all these items are selling for way above their “market value” purely as objects, so there must be some story element to it.

    In a few cases we might be able to share winning bidders’ answers, and that might prove interesting. Keep an eye on the site and maybe we’ll be able to come up with something to satisfy the curious mind..

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