This story is by Laura Jean Zaic and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Immortality of Imagination
As Robert Shire walked down the busy Paris streets, he tried to let his mind flow, desperate for a spark of coerced imagination, intentional creativity. In other words, the impossible. He was supposed to write a piece for the local newspaper. He had no restrictions, other than the limits of his own mind, which were feeling more and more like prison bars.
After receiving the offer, he had spent weeks holed up in his room, never getting more than a few words into each story before discarding it in favor of a new one. The problem was, the story they had found and published before, the one responsible for his current job offer, had been the survivor of years worth of doubt-filled edits and hate-fueled revisions. It had survived his hard-fought divorce battle, given him solace during his daughter’s long and slow death, and eventually, allowed him to finally break through the impenetrable walls of creative freedom we know as art.
The simple truth is that even though it had been short and simple, that five hundred word story had been a reflection of his very soul. And now, they wanted him to write a piece equally as powerful in one short week. Worse, with the way he had played it, he now only had a few hours, which was just plain silly. With a resigned sigh, he sat down at his typical table outside Le Cafe Marmeque, and waited for the end. As he slunk down into his own mind, he imagined his soul flying up, ripping itself away from his body slowly, like silly putty. He watched, hovering a few meters above the city streets, as Robert Shire died.
The cars moved sluggishly, spraying up lazy arches of dirty gutter water over the sidewalk and onto Robert’s shoes, yet his body did not move. A small boy ran ahead of his mother, leaping from puddle to puddle as if dry ground where toxic. He grabbed on to Robert’s leg after a particularly long jump had made him unstable, and looked up at the man whom he had so rudely disturbed by his game, but the sunken figure below did not even open its eyes. He watched the world move around him, while his body sat still, like a rock in a windstorm. The scene was gruesome, as Robert sat, laptop in hand, inches away from the final score. A goal that was now gone, forever.
He was abruptly pulled back to reality by a familiar female voice. “Did you want the usual, Richard?” He looked up at her with dazed eyes and croaked out a hoarse “Yes”. He cleared his throat, sat up, and blinked a few times to re-orientate himself. He came to his senses with just enough time to flash her a weary smile before she quietly slipped back inside. He looked down at his wristwatch, as a sudden rush of adrenaline coursed through his body. With horror, he realized that it was 2:00. There was only an hour left before he would fail, miserably.
He opened his laptop and pulled up all the documents that lay unfinished in… Where were they? His mind began to wander, and the walls that suddenly closed in around him where so eerily straight that he was tempted to hold his breath. They were as shiny as a clean puddle on a sidewalk, so shiny it looked as if they should be rippling. More importantly, he realized with a start, they should be beaming back his reflection. But they did neither.
They stood there flat, and empty. The only thing he could liken it to was the deep ache in his chest when his daughter, after three years of chemo, had laid there in the hospital bed that was to be her final home, and died, alone. It was the kind of ache that didn’t hurt, or maybe it just hurt too much to be perceived as pain. It felt lifeless, no, bottomless, like the entire universe, unimaginable in size, was wedged between his heart and his stomach, but it contained no substance. Nothing but empty space.
Such was the feeling this room gave him. The room was a flat gray color, definitely not dark, but yet there was no distinguishable light source. A peculiar thought struck him. Amidst his mind’s attempts to make sense of this strange world, one word stood out to him above all others- nothingness. He had always imagined nothingness to be black, but that strange, detached ache in his chest told him black would be a welcome reprieve.
As he stood there longing for black, he noticed a hint of it in the wall beside him. No, there were many small black dots. He struggled to focus on the shiny surface, and the shapes started to make sense. It was his story, buried deep within the wall as if encased within 30 meters of ice. But if he concentrated, he could make out a few words. “The Joys of Childhood, by Robert Shire…”
“Here you are then.” The alien voice echoed off the walls until the sound was so loud he could barely stand it. He reached up and clamped both hands tightly over his ears, and squeezed his eyes closed as hard as he could, wishing more than anything that when he opened them again, he would find himself practically anywhere other than this dismal abyss. With a snap, his eyes popped open and were flooded with an unbelievably bright light. The sun, he realized after a moment, had come back out. He looked up at the waitress, who had a concerned look on her face, and realized that his hands really were over his ears. He lowered them sheepishly as he struggled to find something to say. Thankfully, she spoke for him.
“Writers really get into their stories, huh?” She asked with a smile that secretly conveyed the words ‘remind me to never date an artist’. Richard ignored the implication, and simply gave her an apologetic smile and a shrug. This seemed to be the perfect excuse for her to leave, and she was gone faster than he had thought possible. He looked at his computer. Only forty-five minutes to go, and had he been getting into his writing, living the story? No. Instead, he’d gotten lost in his computer, both literally and figuratively. And now, he was feeling even worse than before.
He read over his half-finished article. It was supposed to be about the joys of childhood, but the thing that bugged him, and the reason he hadn’t wanted to finish, was that it was an adult’s perspective of childhood, and he knew that the only other people who would read it would be full grown as well. It felt wrong to write a mature piece about the most uncivilized part of one’s life. It was like attempting to practice reckless abandonment with composure. It was just plain wrong. He began reading a few lines in: “I miss the days when we didn’t need an explanation for anything… Our imagination ran wild… The days before we woke up…”
As he leaned forward onto the table, he let his mind wander far, far away. All the way back to the years of his childhood, trying to remember that world full of confidence. No questions, no answers. Put simply, back when life was fun. His favorite thing to imagine when he was younger, was the Sun Pirates. He remembered sitting there, watching the clouds move closer, and closer, until the light dimmed and the sun was, in his mind, at war.
He had always thought that clouds looked like rolling waves, and so naturally, it stood to reason that there were pirates floating on those clouds, and they wanted to take the sun for themselves. It was all about stealing the light. Oh, those Sun Pirates won every evening, dragging the light away from view, but the guardians of the light, especially the biggest and baddest among them, General Moon, would always retrieve it. Night and day, again and again, the light warriors would find their king and return him to his rightful place on the throne.
That was the epitome of childhood, full of unseen drama and life. But where had it gone? As he sat there, warmed by the memory of his far-off fantasies, he suddenly realized that it wasn’t gone. His imagination took him to darker places than it used to, yes, but maybe they weren’t really ‘darker’. Maybe they were just more complex, layered with year’s worth of real human emotions, both good and bad. Maybe the things he imagined as a kid had seemed happier, but it was just because they were innocent, and lacked depth. Maybe imagination never truly dies, it just grows with you.
With that, he sat up slowly, opened up a new document, and began to write.
“The Immortality of Imagination”
“As Robert Shire walked down the busy Paris streets…”