Island Of The Dead #MACreativeCritic

This was my first creative response to the Creativity and Utopias unit on my MA.  It’s on the theme of ‘Systems/Totality’ – exploring the problems and potential of describing a system as a whole.  1000 words.

I stare at my own distorted reflection on the lake’s surface.  From my little island in the centre, I peer past the tumbling banks and swaying reeds.  Everything’s hazy.  The ripples and swirls on the colourless water are reflected in the ashen sky.  Nothing quite contains itself: there’s a pallid fluidity to it all that makes one thing bleed into all the others, so that there isn’t really one thing and another anymore, there’s just One Thing.  And the Thing is no thing.  No thing that I can yet make out, at least.  The real Thing, whatever it is, seems to pull and tug at me from somewhere outside of this tangled mass of island-lake-reflection that inhabits me.

Or do I inhabit it?  This hallucinatory world between worlds where I am stuck.  Even to say I’m stuck here seems too fixed, too permanent, for such a place as this – this NoPlace.  I believe I am here, although there’s nothing solid to pin that down to certainty.

My Waking Pit – the underground cavern where I was supposed to spend the three days of my Wake, undergoing the trials of passage from childhood into adulthood – filled me with dread, stopped my breath, and so I ran.  Up, out, free.  How could I have known?  I went down into that pit a Sleeper, three days and nights should have turned me into a Wake: a rightful citizen of the Daylight World.  But I bolted too soon.  Instead of taking the deep draughts of fresh sunlit air I was expecting, I slithered into this twilit world of formless phantoms.

In the lake’s broken mirror, I see them crowd around me – clutching, grasping, snatching at the spectral shadow I’ve become – the timeless dead.  Like grey smoke.  Silent ghosts adrift on this island far from land.

“Miriam.  Miriam!”  I think I hear someone calling my name and I look towards the strange, unfathomable sound, so distant and disembodied in this mist.

“Mi!  Mi!”  There it is again, urgent and insistent.

Through the miasma, I strain my eyes to search out the life belonging to the words I hear.  Gradually, across the endless waters, I begin to see the amber glow of sunrise.  The light is dawning over the Daylight World.  An indistinguishable silhouette stands on its remote shore and calls my name across the void.

“Mi!  Tell me what you can see.  Say it.  Speak the words that will bring you closer to this world.”

What words? I think.  There’s nothing in my mouth but air: empty, cloying, choking air.  But the figure seems to hear the thought as it leaks out of me.

“Describe what you can see.  Use your words to get you here.”

I can’t describe it, I’m thinking, there aren’t any words in my mouth, or in my head, or in my whole world that could describe what I can see.  It’s too beautiful.  Too bright.  Too real, and solid, and true to fit inside any of the frail and flimsy words I know.

          When the reply comes, I’m no longer sure if the sound is in my ears or in my head.

“Your words will take you more than half way.  But you must try.  Now.  Before the Daylight World is lost to you completely.”

So I begin.  The words just a halting drip, drip inside my mind at first.

Daylight.  Daylight World.  Sun.  Rising.  Sea.  Shore.  People.  Yes, people.  I can see…

          And the more I see, the more I find the words, until they’re filling my mouth and overflowing into the gloom, and I can hear them breaking out of me, clanging against one another and crashing with waves of meaning.

“In the Daylight World, the sun is golden amber, rising crisp and clear above a liquid crystal sea.  The trees are fragrant and fruitful and everyone has plenty to eat and enjoy.  The people are happy, so happy.  Happiness is what drives them – their own and others’ happiness is at the heart of all they do.  Their work makes them happy, but they wouldn’t call it work, it’s what they thrive on.  Everyone spends their time in the vocation they most desire, and they all fit together like clockwork.  Nobody is bored, or angry, or lazy, because everyone is doing exactly the thing that they love best.  Whether it’s designing or building the stunning places where they live and work, or playing professional sports, or cleaning the streets – yes, there are even people whose greatest desire it is to clean the streets and all those other jobs that nobody in this world seems to like – and that’s how everything gets done, and works in harmony and keeps everyone happy.  When somebody feels like they need a change, they do something different, so that they are constantly inspired and striving for greater and greater joy.

“There are challenges to overcome though.  In the environment and in their work.  There are adventures to be had and dangers to defeat.  On the edges of the Daylight World there’s a dark and ancient forest: beasts roam within its borders.  Taming and harnessing the powerful creatures is a constant adventure for the brave at heart.

“Nothing is missing from the Daylight World.  A deep sense of fulfilment and peace pervades every living breath, and is the mark of all those who live there.  Life there is good.”

The words pour through me: fat and fertile, leaping upstream.  My incantations dragging the Daylight World ever more near to me.  I reach out my hand to it and feel the firm reality of its earth.

Except I can’t help but question, just quietly, in the back of my mind: What about the people who don’t want to be happy all the time?  What about the beauty of decay?  What about the outsiders, and the ugly, and the weird?  How does somebody like me find a place in that world?

          As it slides from my grasp in an instant, I cry out in mute distress.


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