By Audrey Kosla, TIWP Student
He couldn’t remember his name. He couldn’t remember anything. Not how long he had been trapped here, in this vast, empty white space. It could have been five minutes or four years, he had no clue. It seemed more likely to be the latter, though; it felt like he had been trapped forever.
The town of Inspiria had a secret. To any outsider, it seemed like an unsuspecting place that was the home of the arts, known for the talented painters, musicians, sculptors, writers, poets, and any kind of artist. But the people of Inspiria knew better. The reason for this talent that seemed to flourish in the small village was a box. A simple, black, half-foot tall box that seemed just as unassuming as the rest of the town. But when the black lid on the top was opened, instead of corners and limited space, there was a boundless emptiness. This simple object was the key to the village’s success and was kept a secret at all costs. Outsiders were forbidden to know, and it was an unspoken rule that no one in the community mentioned it to anyone.
When an Inspirian child reaches the age of ten, they go inside the box. They don’t jump into the box, it doesn’t expand to fit their size; all the child does is put their hand into the opened top, almost like they are reaching for something inside. They are then transported into the box’s emptiness, and when they return a few seconds later they are wide-eyed with wonder and have an idea. Something in the box makes them emerge with an inspiration that they hold on to and make extraordinary. No one knows what goes on inside the box, no one has ever remembered what made them have this idea, but they still have this sense of it. Some inspirations lead to musical pieces that are so beautiful they make birds stop in their paths to listen. For some, it’s a story that comes to life when a pen touches paper. It could be a painting that makes anyone stop and stare with wonder. For everyone, it’s different, but there is always the same result: an inspiration that made their town unique. Everyone in the village has had this inspiration after being introduced to the box. Everyone, except one boy who was still trying to find it.
He could remember reaching his hand inside the box, the same excitement that every child in Inspiria has when they finally reach the age of ten. He had imagined himself writing exquisite poems, painting beautiful masterpieces, anything but where he was now. When he had arrived in the box, still expecting inspiration to strike, he had looked around in bewilderment. Where was the idea that he was supposed to have? Where was the thing that no one could remember? At first, he thought it was a test. Was he supposed to make something appear in the blank space? Maybe a pen was supposed to be conjured, so he could write. Or a paintbrush. Perhaps a piano? He closed his eyes and imagined each of these objects, and when he had opened them expecting to see inspiration, there was nothing there.
He tried over and over again, sometimes trying to say the words out loud, but no sound came out. When saying or imagining an object didn’t work, he had instead tried to move his hand to draw the shape of the object in the blank around him. The problem was, he didn’t have an arm. He didn’t have a body at all. He had become the blank when he vanished into the box. It was as if he had closed his eyes, but instead of the black of his eyelids, it was white. Panic started to set in. What was he going to do? Where was the inspiration he had been promised?
He tried to run, he tried to move in any way. Jump, walk, dance, just something to show himself that he was still in control, that he hadn’t become the white. But how can you run to the other side of something that’s not there? How do you jump to reach the top of nothing? There wasn’t even a ground to support him. He couldn’t tell if he was falling or floating. Standing or laying down. It was like he was a blank piece of paper, needing something to write on the page. After a while he gave up; trying to do the impossible was tiring, and he had no hope of escaping after so many failed attempts. He barely existed and wished that he could become part of the box, just to end this miserable suffering. For a long time, he felt like this, like it was the easier option than searching for inspiration. He let his mind drift, imagined his eyes closing, imagined lying there forever, giving up altogether. It was miserable, and for one second he opened his nonexistent eyes again and strained to see something, anything that would help him.
Then he glimpsed something, it wasn’t there exactly, but he saw the white, and suddenly, it wasn’t white anymore. He shook his head, thinking himself having just gone crazy. But then he saw it again. There was nothing there, he knew that, but why did he see something in the blank? It wasn’t a color, wasn’t a painting or a poem. He could almost describe it as a feeling, but one that he had never felt before. Suddenly, the blank paper didn’t look as blank anymore. The colorless turned into snow. It turned into clouds. There was white sea foam and seashells, flour spilled all over a marble floor. A swan spreading its wings and finally learning how to fly. But in the center, there was still the blank piece of paper, the one that he now held the tool to fill with inspiration. He let himself become the white, he stopped resisting or wishing. He accepted it. He became the flour and the snow. The foam and the marshmallows. He became the vast emptiness that didn’t feel so empty anymore. And like a dandelion in a breeze, he flew away, towards some unknown beginning.
He emerged to a cheering crowd.
He blinked in the face of the bright sun until a shadow made him able to open his eyes again.
“Congratulations! Only 30 seconds, that’s almost a record!” The mayor told him, shaking his hand. “What happened in the box?”
He tried to think back to what had occurred in the box, but couldn’t conjure up a single image of anything after reaching his hand inside.
“I have no clue,” he shrugged, and a smile appeared on his face, “but I have an idea.”