For part of my university assignment, I had the chance to write a creative response to a short story. The story I chose was ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ by Ursula Le Guin (available to read online). This story centres around the idea of an utterly perfect place called Omelas. A utopia. But for Omelas to remain this way, there is one condition: the complete misery of one child. If this child is shown any kindness whatsoever, Omelas becomes damaged and the perfection of the place is destroyed. I wrote a creative response to this focusing on the child, and what could happen.
The sunlight has been gone for years. The child sits. It waits. It does not know what it is waiting for. The child does not remember much, but what it does remember is so bright, so vivid. To distract from the painful memories, it counts. Surprisingly, after all these years, the child can still remember its numbers. One. The child shifts its position slightly. Two. The sunlight under the crack of the door shadows for a second. Three. The child cringes and folds into itself in anticipation. Four. The door bursts open. Five. From the doorway, one woman, two men and two children gaze at the child in wonder. Six. The child shivers. It stops counting. It cannot count when others are in the room. One child in particular, a young boy around the same age of the child, cannot take his eyes off it. His eyes are full of wonder and confusion, mouth slightly open. It stares back, its vacant, faraway eyes unwavering from the boys. He swallows and looks away. One man pushes himself to the front of the group, kneeling to the floor so that he is eye level with the child. His eyes soften at the sight of it, the fear and sadness that they hold seeps into the rest of his face.
“I will be good,” the child says, “Please let me out. I will be good.”
The man stiffens. The most unnerving thing about the child’s words is the deadpan way in which they were said. As if it knew the answer before it even asked the question. The man catches himself. He is terrified. But he must remember the rule. He straightens up and hurriedly ushers the others outside. The child hears mutterings of words as they leave. It cannot understand them; the words slip away from it before it can catch them. Darkness engulfs the tool room once again. It could have been a few seconds. Or possibly minutes. Even hours. But the child drifts off into a restless sleep and a new darkness replaces the old.
With a jolt, the child awakens. Once again, the door bursts open. The child flinches and recoils. Two men enter. The child recognises one of the men as the man from before, the sadness in his eyes unchanged but also joined by something resembling determination. The other man is older, with a grey beard and a round, kind face. The men stand in the doorway and a glow of light frames the two bodies. In one synchronous movement they step back. Piercing sunlight floods the room, casting light on the child’s yellowed skin. The child squints and shields its eyes protectively. The older man raises his arm, causing the child to cry out. However, instead of striking the child, the man throws clothing at the soiled floor in front of it.
“Put them on,” the man commands, “We’re not like the other ones. We’re here to help you.”
The child looks up at his face, dazed and uncomprehending. Minutes pass by before the child moves, its back rigid and limbs taut with fear. Then slowly, it begins to unfurl its body. After years of neglect, fear and abandonment, the child is unable to complete even the simplest of tasks without trembling violently. But it manages. As it dresses itself, it is in awe of the feel of material on its skin, a feeling that it has not experienced for as long as it can remember. The child strokes its sleeves in fascination. Hope begins to rise in its heart.
“Are you sure about this, Tommy?” the older man asks. While he was watching the child dress, his face steadily became more anxious and his complexion paled and paled until finally, it was devoid of any warmth at all.
“We have to.” Tommy replies simply. Together they take an arm of the child, who freezes at their touch. The two men balance the weight of the child between them and the three walk outside as one. The first thing that hits the child is the bustling noise of the crowds, the air seemingly overflowing with high pitched laughter and energetic speech. Too. Much. Noise. The child draws back in fear and clamps its hands over its ears. After a few seconds, gingerly, it releases them. The mellifluous melody of a wooden flute weaves through the crowds. The smell of barbeque, summer time air, and music overwhelm the child’s senses.
“Hey!” a distant voice hollers “Is that the kid?”
Heads turn. Eyes burn into the face of the child. Tommy and the older man try their best to conceal it, but it is futile. The crowd swarms. Hands reach out. And the darkness lives once again.
THANK YOU FOR READING!