How does one achieve true creativity? Some, have commented that it might require psychopathy. What if we tried an experiment, an alternative method—a child, alone in the world, master of her own island, trained from birth to create virtually ex nihilo. Verily this method is immoral. It’s called child labor. Thus, we shall explore it in the form of creative fiction.
Welcome to Maria’s island…
The floor was cold and smooth as Maria emerged from under the covers. It sent a chill down her spine as she stood upright and looked around her room, stretching and looking back to see her stuffed animal, a little teddy, still nestled underneath the blanket behind her with its head barely poking out. As she looked forward, the hardwood floor extended throughout the room except for a rug near the window. The light entering through the blinds was dim. It reflected softly upon the dark varnished surface and illuminated the plush, silver bearskin rug. Behind her the room was dark, the sun’s rays were barely penetrating beyond her bed, and she walked over toward the window to open the blinds.
The grounds before her were shrouded in fog and her vision was limited. She could barely see the bare branches of trees poking out from the edge of the forest beyond the moores of the property. Only the very tips emerged from the shroud and the fog rose like spirits from the grassy lawn below her.
Once the blinds were open, the room was completely illuminated. She turned around then, still holding the blinds open with her right arm. She could see herself in a large mirror along the opposite wall, a silhouette in sharp contrast to the light entering from beyond. However, as she looked deeper into it, she let go of the curtains and they closed once more behind her, leaving the other side of the room submerged in darkness once more. The floor before her remained visible, light still peeking in from behind her. She could see her own shadow though, faintly projected upon the floor before her amidst the soft glow. She pondered it, watching as it moved in concert with her as she sat amidst the silence of the home. It was always so quiet here. There were so many empty rooms that she had explored throughout the years and an island beyond. She knew every nook and cranny of the island, from the tallest peak to every inch of the shore. It was all that she had ever known and what existed beyond the shores of her kingdom was purely of her imagination.
People came and went throughout the years, infrequently, but memorably. Breakfast and every meal were always waiting for her. Today was no different. She emerged from her room into the hallways. The light entered from tiny windows as visible rays. Tiny particles in the air floating about within the ancient structure, mahogany on the walls, ornate carvings in the molding, the light streams before her crisscrossing to form an X that she walked through as she approached the spiral staircase to descend into the entry way of the home.
Once upon the ground floor, she looked toward the door and wanted to run outside right away, but a day of adventure always requires a full belly. Thus she veered to the left and into the dining room. The meal was simple, sitting there waiting for her as always, and the others had already ventured somewhere out of view. A slice of thick bacon, still warm, coffee cake, and a glass of milk. The cake was moist, and the sweet crunchy crust melted in her mouth with the bacon, sweet and savory with a hint of applewood smoke. She ate calmly, anxious to emerge from the house and into the foggy day, but still taking time to savor the delectable food.
She was out the door in no time, the house disappeared behind her, and she found herself amidst the woods wandering as if through a hall of mirrors, each patch of forest mirroring that which had come before. The ground was littered with leaves, multicolored, moist and damp from the prior evening’s rains. They felt spongy as she ventured further into the woods, off the beaten path that had been visible prior to the fall of the leaves and Autumn’s arrival on the island.
It was then that Maria came upon a pond. She had never seen this particular pond before. Had she encountered a patch of the island that she had never seen before? Were new scenes emerging from the mist? As a child of seven, Maria was never quite sure if the world around her was a static entity or one that was reborn every day upon her waking. The pond was new and appeared to be of an unknown depth. She peered into it, but all that she could see was her own reflection, smiling, and it made her giggle. Her reflection was the only other child that she had ever seen. She bent down and touched the surface then, watching as her form rippled, still intelligible, but waving in the mirror-like substance before her.
Standing once more, she looked into the fog, wondering which way the ocean was in. On the island if one walked long enough in a straight line, the ocean was always in that direction. It was a question of which route would lead her to her desire first. There were tiny creeks that appeared to transform with each rainstorm and the sound of the trees in the gentle breeze around her and from the distance, near and far, but the ocean was silent, uncharacteristically silent. She looked to the pond once more then, standing alongside it now so that she could only see its reflection of the cloudy sky. It was like a portal that she could jump into and fall into another world. She wasn’t sure what would happen when she hit the ground though. She had fallen once, five feet from a tree, and it had not felt good. There was no one on the island that was ever there to guide her, and she had learned to be very careful when climbing. Perhaps, she thought, I will return with a ladder someday, like the one that leads into the attic.
Thus, she closed her eyes and spun around in a circle while her arm extended forward, pointing into the foggy shroud that surrounded her. When she paused and opened her eyes, she began marching forward, the pond disappeared behind her, and she continued to press forward until she finally emerged from the woods onto a sandy dune. She knew that the ocean was nearby, but it continued to remain silent. The ocean had never been silent to her before. The soft sound of the trees swaying slowly, and one creaking loudly every so often, echoed from the path that had led her to the sandy patch of earth that she knew to only exist alongside the ocean, but all else remained quiet and still.
Thus, she pressed forward until she reached the edge of the sea, where sand and the waves usually collided in a vigorous display of the sea’s might. Today, however, the sea was still, moving barely three inches with each tiny push of the waves. “Why had the sea become so placid?”, she wondered to herself. She could barely see beyond the shallows, ten feet in any direction. The marine layer coming in from the sea was thicker even than the fog rising from the ground below her on land. Thus, she continued to walk along the edge, her footprints disappearing not into the sand as they usually did with the passing of the waves, but into the impenetrable fog beyond her vision.
Eventually, as she walked further along the shore, the fog began to recede. The sun began to shine through upon the ocean’s still peaceful façade. It reflected upon the waveless expanse and she thought that it looked like the ice that sometimes formed on tiny puddles around the house in the winter. It seemed like it went on forever though and into the distant fog that obscured the horizon. The water before her remained transparent, but the shimmering surface of the sun’s reflection began only five feet away from her. She imagined walking out onto it and finally discovering what existed beyond the island. She imagined whole worlds, children like her, people that would go on adventures with her into these fabulous new worlds, and especially new delicious foods. She stepped in the water though and knew that it was an illusion. Anything that touched the surface would fall through, sink beyond view, into depths unknown.
She had to prove it though. She turned back toward the island to grab a stone. She found a smooth one, cold as ice against the warmth of her hand, and she returned once more to the ocean’s edge. She felt despair for a moment as she held it in her hand. She felt lonely and trapped. It was rare for her to feel that way. The island had so much to explore, but it struck hunger pangs every so often, keenly felt and still a sensation that she did not fully understand. Thus, she cast the stone into the ocean, wondering if it would bounce against the surface as if it had crashed into a thick sheet of ice. As expected though, it plunged beneath the surface immediately, sending a spray of water upward and a perturbation around the point of impact.
She watched as the ripple slowly made its way toward her, pondering it, the normality of the moment, imagining how much more interesting it would have been if it had smacked against a hard surface, “crack!”, and bounced until resting upon a bridge that she could cross into the unknown beyond. She had seen people come, travelling upon floating vessels, but she was never permitted to leave. The other people of the house came and went, yet she remained, always the only child on the island.
Once the ripples disappeared and the surface became peaceful again, she sat along the edge of the ocean and continued to peer out into the distance. She laid down on her side and viewed the pristine surface sideways, her head resting against the sandy beach watching at the surface barely swayed at all. She could see the clouds moving slowly above, thick and still obscuring the light from above, but gradually growing thinner as the surface of the ocean became more brilliant.
It was then that something emerged. The surface before her was disrupted. It looked like a bubble at first, a tiny one floating just above the surface only two feet before her. However, all of a sudden, something leapt from the sea and landed right before her. It was roundish, olive green with black stripes, and had four legs. Its body, which was approximately the same size as the rock that she had cast, was slimy, and the sun reflected upon its back. Its large, bulbous eyes stared into her and she sat upright, fascinated by the new creature that had emerged from the ocean. She could see her reflection in its eyes and she squinted, leaning forward to get a better look. It hopped then though, right toward her, and she flinched immediately, her body jolting backward as the little creature lunged toward her. It came to rest upon her leg, still looking up and into her eyes. Thus, she relaxed and sat upright again, looking down at the little fearless creature.
She picked it up and held it in her hand. Its body was cold, but she could feel the faint pulse of a heartbeat against her skin. She held him closely against her chest, hoping that it would bring him warmth and she began to walk around, singing to him, singing a sweet melody without words. As she walked and sang, she only payed attention to the little critter until suddenly she looked around herself and saw her footprints everywhere all over the ground.
She wanted to take him home, but she wasn’t sure which way she had come. Every which way she walked, she encountered only her own footsteps. He remained though, his little heart beating and his body growing warmer against her. It warmed her heart to feel that. Eventually she made for the woods. All paths eventually led to the house, as she knew all too well. All paths lead to the ocean or to the house. Thus, she entered the woods once more, her new friend nestled tightly against her, and she pushed forward, imagining the path toward the house where she would find a proper new little home for her friend.
She came across it again though, the pond that had never existed prior to this foggy day. She paused to look down into it, to see her reflection once more, and as she did so, her new little friend leapt forward. With a “splash!”, it crashed through the reflection of her reflection’s forehead and disappeared beneath the surface as the pond roiled in ripples and her reflection became unintelligible, obscured in the movement. The chaos was masking the reflection of her distraught expression as she suddenly dropped to her knees, plunged her arms into the pond to attempt to recover her new friend, and raised them covered in green algae and grime. She sat then, overcome with sadness and peering into the surface as the surface became still once more. Her reflection became intelligible once more until a tear that had dangled from her cheek finally fell, struck the surface, and she began to cry once more, turning around then and running toward the home distraught.
When she returned to the home, the adults were seated at the table in the dining room to the right of the door. They looked up from their meal as she entered, her arms and dress still dirty and her face wet from the tears. The younger woman who prepared the meals, the man who asked the questions, and a stranger each had looks of curiosity upon their faces, yet they remained still and silent. They all stared for a moment, and Maria looked back before hurrying up the stairs and to her bedroom where she slammed the door and sobbed.
After a few moments, the woman entered the room. She said nothing about the soiled sheets, now covered with green and black stains from the pond, and she calmly touched Maria on the shoulder, nodded, and guided her to the restroom where a warm bath had already been drawn. She closed the door behind her and placed a fresh towel on the sink for Maria to use after her bath. Once alone, she plunged beneath the surface, wondering what it would be like to breathe underwater, watching as the bubbles rose and popped along the surface above her. She thought to herself then that the little creature had been cruel. There he had sat like she was now, able to see through the surface, watching her and her misery as she frantically called out to him. An anger rose within her and she closed her eyes.
She had to surface moments later, and she allowed the anger to pass, turning her attention to the soap and wondering who the stranger had been. Suddenly she had a reason to emerge from the bath, a new mystery to investigate. She washed her arms, her face, and hair, plunged beneath the surface once more, and then leapt from the bath to grab the soft towel before returning to her bedroom. Her stuffed animal was neatly tucked beneath fresh blankets, the blinds were open except for a thin, diaphanous veil through which the light shone, and a brand-new yellow dress was laid out upon the bed.
She dressed quickly, ruffled her sleek dark hair in the mirror, and entered the hallway once more, a curious flame burning and roiling within her, imagined visions of who the stranger was and why he might have come. They always asked so many questions whenever the strangers appeared. When she finally arrived at the bottom of the stairs, the dining room to the left was empty, but both men were seated in the room to the right, one in an armchair and the other upon a sofa near the fireplace. The man who asked the questions looked up first and smiled. The stranger followed suit.
“Maria, join us please, won’t you?”, the man in the armchair asked, gently motioning toward another armchair on the opposite side of the room, a red velvet flickering in the light of the flame. The curtains were drawn in this room and the man’s face was only half illuminated; the other half was concealed in shadows. Shadows danced throughout the room; the shadows of the men and the furniture rose and fell, swayed and flashed against the wooden shelves that surrounded the room. They were empty, a detail that had always puzzled Maria. When she asked about it though, the man assured her that they would be full someday. That was the point of their meetings, the questions, and the people who came to visit her.
Thus, she entered the room and sat upon the velvet armchair. There she sat, looking straight ahead toward the man who asked the questions, and then to the right, toward the stranger. The man in the armchair, the familiar one, wore a white shirt and a dark, suede blazer; his pants were dark and crisp, without a single wrinkle. He always wore the same outfit whenever he appeared in the house, simple and immaculate. Meanwhile, the stranger wore a green shirt and a light brown vest; his pants were a darker brown and his hair was lighter than the man who she knew. His face was bearded, neatly groomed and short though, golden in the light of the fire.
It began quickly as always. “Maria, I want you to close your eyes”, the man said then, “Relax your mind and focus on the sound of the fire.”
It crackled gently as she closed her eyes and the room went dark.
“What exists beyond the island?”, he questioned her then. It always began with the same question, but she never had the same answer; a new vision of the unknown always rose from within her. She could see it though, her mind flying above the sea beyond the farthest reaches of what she had glimpsed in the light of the day, plunging beneath the surface and beyond the clouds.
“It’s cold beneath the surface, and dark, but he came from somewhere. I can see a light beneath the surface where he came from. I wanted to walk out beyond the edge of the ocean, but I sank and I sank. There’s a light beneath the ocean. It’s like the sun. They have homes there… slimy little things that hop about, with big eyes, but they disappear when I come near. Their afraid of that which is not light. There are bigger ones too. Some of them are bigger than me, but they’re also afraid. When I look at my hands while in their world, they’re like shadows, not my hands, but my shadow… what I saw in the mirror this morning”, she said rapidly before pausing, her eyes still closed, her vision still in progress.
The stranger interjected then, “Describe the creatures. What do they look like and where do they go when they run from you?”
“Their bodies are round, and they bloat up at first when I get close. They float when they do it. Their legs are skinny and their bodies change colors; green to the color of the dark sea, red to the color of the bushes on the ground where they hide from me. They hide in the bushes and then they disappear into tunnels. I can follow them into the larger ones, but the small ones go where I cannot follow. The tunnels are dark, but a golden ball, like the sun, hovers above all the bushes. I can’t see when I follow them. I can hear the swoosh of the water, things moving in the dark, but I can’t see. I can feel the walls, but everything is black now.”
“Can you still see the light from where you entered the tunnel?”, the man in the armchair questioned then.
“Yes, but there’s… there’s another light down here now. It’s smaller and faint, but it’s like I can reach out and touch it. It’s like a fruit… glowing red in the dark of the tunnel. I can see it, but it doesn’t brighten the caves. I can’t see anything else though. It’s cold when I touch it, and smooth and firm like an orange”, she said, having succumbed to the temptation to explore deeper into the caverns. She tucked it into her pocket then before turning to emerge from the caves and into the light once more. It felt like being in the bathtub again, but she could breathe underwater now without difficulty. The bubbles rose upward and disappeared from view. She could see her own hair in her peripheral vision, waving in the seawater like the bushes below.
The creatures were nowhere to be seen and the orb’s brilliant light shone upon her, her body still engulfed in shadows from which no light reflected nor emerged. It did not feel warm like the sun, and the water felt cold against her skin. It felt like the body of that little creature that she had found that morning, except now it was encasing her, enveloping her, and she began to shiver. If she approached the light, it grew blinding and still emitted no heat. Thus, she rose into the darkness between the orb and the star above the surface from which she had come, momentarily in a dark vacuum between sources of light, the one above of warmth and the one below of pure light. Her body rose swiftly and the star that she had discovered disappeared within the depths. She gasped as she rose above the surface once more and felt the warmth of the sun, the warmth of the fire.
She opened her eyes then and the men sat before her, smiling faintly and nodding. She could feel the fruit that she had discovered in her pocket still, the cold stinging against the warmth of her leg. However, when she reached to grab it, she found her pocket empty, empty and yet still strangely cold, as if it had been there and vanished suddenly, leaving only the traces of its absence of warmth, like the trail of a slug. “Where had it gone, though?”, she questioned herself, looking around frantically at first. There were no signs of it having rolled off her lap and onto the ground, and she almost leapt up to examine under the sofa and her armchair, but then she saw the stranger and his smile. It was a knowing smile and she immediately became suspicious of the man.
As soon as she began to frown, and perhaps without noticing, the stranger addressed her, “Maria, those creatures from your dream sound fascinating. If I drew them, do you think that you could give me some pointers on how to make them more like what you saw?”, the stranger questioned then. None of the strangers that had come to visit her had ever drawn her dreams before, and the request interrupted her frown for a brief moment before she remembered that she was angry with the stranger. She looked at the stranger with contempt for a moment and his faced suddenly seemed wounded. She softened then, looked over toward the man in the armchair, the familiar one, he nodded acceptingly, and Maria felt confused.
She reached to her pocket then and it was as warm as if the fruit had never been there. She felt disoriented still, at first, her mind still racing to process the lingering cold that had intruded into reality, but gradually the dream faded and the warmth of the fire, its flickering light mesmerized her. She turned to the stranger then, and nodded, “I want to see the drawings. I saw one of them today and I want to see it again. Can I have one of them for my room? He was one of the small ones, but he disappeared into a deep pond in the woods”, she explained before noticing the man in the armchair stir suddenly upon hearing her story.
“Where was the pond, Maria?”, he questioned then, leaning forward, a look of concern on his face. “Was that why you came home a mess this morning? Did you pull some creature out of a dirty puddle?”, he inquired further, his calm face having turned red with a flabbergast expression.
Maria felt confused. The questions were coming quickly and had taken on an accusatory tone. The man in the armchair seemed angry, “no, no, she stammered, it came from the ocean, from the shining light I threw a rock into”, she said, ending on an enthusiastic and proud note.
The man with the golden hair reacted then, casting an angry glance at the other gentleman before snapping, “I thought you said that she was uncontaminated.” He paused then, squinted at her, and leaned forward to draw frenetically, also growing red, before grabbing the paper and showing her a very realistic picture of a frog. It was clenched in his fist and he shook it as he menacingly asked, “Is this what you saw? Is this what I came all the way here to hear about? A frog? A bunch of frogs?”, he questioned with a scoff.
Maria froze then, not sure if she should nod or cry. The stranger had an aggressive energy that she had never experienced before, and she felt threatened. Her muscles seized, her eyes grew wide, and her breathing grew shallow and rapid. She looked toward the other man though, the familiar one, and he nodded reassuringly. Something in his eyes made her feel more at ease.
“Yes, yes”, the man in the armchair said hesitatingly to the golden haired man before leaning back in his chair and looking at the girl inquisitively. “It appears that nature has cast her first stone… How unexpected… a frog…”, he said, seeming more at ease, chuckling for a moment before looking back to the other man and donning a more serious expression. “A full refund, of course, sir. This was entirely unexpected. My deepest apologies, but it seems that she’s entered a new stage of her creativity; contaminated, yes, but not by the other creators…”, he said, staring intently at her now. “So early… a frog… from the ocean… a frog…”, he began to muse to himself.
The stranger had grown more at ease after hearing about the refund and he similarly leaned back into the sofa that he sat upon and appeared more relaxed. “There’s the time too, but I can still get away with using this. I’ve got to find something to do now that I’m trapped on your island, part of this little experiment of yours. I was skeptical, but if she hadn’t said anything, I would have fallen for it, you know?”, he said them, bemused, looking down at the drawing of the frog.
The man’s response was rapid, “It’s not an experiment. We’ve done this for generations. Some of the most unique and fantastic works of literature and art come from the children that we manage. It’s the key to creativity, the completely ignorant mind of a child who has never left the island. Their works emerge from an uncontaminated mind before nature begins to encroach, but each child’s experience is unique”, he said, pausing for a moment before looking at the girl with extreme curiosity and adding, “We’ve never had frogs on this island.”
“Well, I can still use that world she described, the light beneath the sea and the caverns, and I can transform the creatures. They don’t have to look like frogs and their camouflage actually did pique my curiosity. It seems to do the trick. I can build it out from there…”, he said with a sigh. “I’m fascinated though… that’s mostly why I came…. How does it all work, once they get older? Do you keep them here still, all alone on an island without any friends or even a pet for god’s sakes? There’s really nothing else here, is there? Is she like a caged animal?”, he questioned, as if Maria was not sitting within the same room.
The man in the armchair shifted uncomfortably then, “yes and no… with time nature introduces new elements, as you’ve seen. The children always seem to have some sort of extraordinary draw upon her”, he said, pausing for a moment to muse to himself, “a frog… from the ocean…”, he said, slightly puzzled, before continuing his explanation of the island of the child, “She’s provided for and is essentially the princess of her own island. It’s a matter of framing, really. Some people come and stay too, eventually, when the children grow older. It’s a fascinating life on the island of a creator. They’re always given a choice though, when they’re older. We’re not imprisoning them against their will, if that’s what you’re asking”, he assured the man before turning his gaze toward Maria.
“You see these shelves, the walls around the house, the empty spaces that you’ve always asked about?”, he questioned her.
She nodded then, still wondering about the man’s previous revelations, wondering, “will there be more children like me?” Her eyes lit up for a moment at the thought and she looked intently back at the man. He smiled as she shifted toward the edge of her seat.
“These will all be full of your creations someday. All the people that have come here to question you, to explore your dreams, your visions and imagination, they are all creating art that will one day return to you. This man’s book, one with your little frog friend, will return to you to sit upon these shelves with the others. It takes time though, but some are already on their way”, he said with a cool smile.
The blonde man looked at her then with a soft smile as well before leaning forward to push the drawing of the frog toward her. “You can have it; maybe your little frog friend will appear one of these days”, he said cheerfully before taking on a more serious expression, “Also, I’m sorry about my outburst earlier… I’m just… very passionate about what I do.”
Maria still felt very overwhelmed, but the frog drawing excited her, distracting her momentarily from processing all that the man in the armchair had explained about her situation. He had never been so forthcoming until just now. It was then, however, that she looked up toward the man with the golden hair and thought to ask a question, “mister, do you also come from the other island, the same one that all the others have come from? Are there children like me there?”
The stranger seemed sorrowful and uncomfortable at first. He nodded, acknowledging her question, but looked over toward the man in the armchair, unsure of what to say. It was then, however, that he felt that he had a stroke of brilliance, and he immediately acted upon it, “I come from a land across the sea, beyond what you can see, and there are no children; everyone is like me.”
Maria nodded then. The existence of other children somewhere beyond the island had become apparent to her, but she had yet to meet someone who actually came from a land with children. Then, as she looked down at the drawing of the frog, she found a silver lining; more friends might emerge from beyond the island, the one in the pond might resurface, and, at the very least, she had a new drawing to place upon the wall in her bedroom. Thus, she continued admiring the drawing for a moment before looking up at the bearded stranger, “The creatures in the vision were also very interesting, deep deep in the sea, changing color around me. Would you like to draw them too? I can draw some and then compare to you!”