Read the original Japanese version here. To discuss this and other finalists, visit Mormon Lit Lab.
“The Creation Workshop”
written by Misushige Takaki, translated by Andrew Hall
Peta saw a flock of birds flying, and her eye focused on one that was particularly beautiful and strong. Peta thought that the view this bird had of the world must be wonderful; the deep orange of the sky and the expansive earth beneath.
“Wow” she thought.
“Life is truly beautiful!”
“…and we will end class there for today.”
As Ms. Acacia spoke, the students left their daydreams and their surroundings reverted back to the white washed classroom they had been in when the class began. Each of her students, from their own points of view, had experienced their own worlds during that class. The teacher began to announce their homework.
“Please conjure a new creature.” she said.
They were to take one of the insects, fish or birds they had studied in class and think of a new, similar, but different creature. Peta’s notebook was always full of drawings like this.
The problem is, she said to just come up with one new creature, one new life. But, of all of my animals, this one, that one, they are all so cuddly. …and I can only pick one? I can’t choose! So… Maybe, I’ll just put two of them together; a bird and a mole? I like birds the most, so I’ll give it the head of a bird. Maybe a hawk, or an eagle? The rest of their body… the chest, abdomen, legs and feet will be from a mole. Why a mole though? Because they are cute and tough! But, when I try putting them together, its head comes to too much of a point. It looks strange. Maybe if the bird’s beak was rounder and thicker? The wings would be too weird though. I’ll skip the wings? Wait a second, then it can’t fly! I guess I better go with an ordinary bird.
Peta took out her notebook to check again, when a small but distinct voice called out to her.
“I want to live!”
Is there already an animal alive here?
Peta looked at the drawing of her flightless bird. This thing is already alive. But it’s a bird that can’t fly? Maybe, it’s not even a bird at all?
“Please make me fly!” the drawing said.
I can hear its voice! It sounds like a baby! I’ll make it so it can swim through water. Yeah, that’s like flying. I’ll give it thick legs and feet like an otter. No, even thicker and stronger than that. I’ll give it webbed feet, too. …and the head of a duck! His beak has to be stouter though, wider than an actual duck’s. This thing is weird, but I like it! It’s stronger than it looks. And it’s beautiful.
There, it’s done.
Peta’s classmates erupted in a roar of laughter when they saw her creation on the classroom board. Michael, one of the class presidents, was wiping away tears of laughter.
“Is this a mole? A duck? Some kind of bird? Tell me it’s not an otter, right? It looks like all of them, but it isn’t any of them!” he jeered.
“Look, everyone else was able to do what they were assigned.” Michael said, pointing to the other students. Peta saw that everyone else had indeed drawn animals that were easily distinguished; like white mice, or butterflies. Some came up and proudly showed their drawings. Others came up and simply gawked at Peta’s work. A girl named Mel said, “That’s weird.” There is no way a creature like that could exist.”
Most of the classmates were nodding along. Then, Dan piped up. “I can’t believe that something that ugly could live on this beautiful world” while pointing to the world globe that floated in the middle of the room.
The school where Peta and the other students sat was a place where worlds were created, the globe that Dan was pointing at was a new world that the students would help create. This new world would be called Earth. Once the students had grown up, they would be going there to live and experience life. Besides people, there would be all kinds of other living things there as well. Adults worked to create the new planet, as well as all the living things that would be on it. But the children also got a chance to help. Their homework was to create designs, some of which would be chosen and then created for the Earth.
“I worked so hard at making it! It is sweet and beautiful and I tried to make it strong!” Peta said.
She lifted up her face.
“It’s NOT ugly and it’s NOT weird! It’s beautiful and it will be able to live and thrive. I could see and feel it as I designed her. It’ll swim through water as though it were flying.”
But, everyone continued to mock her, so she turned away from them silently.
Ms. Acacia announced, “Class is done for the day, kids. I will show everyone’s hard work to the principal.”
She then turned to Peta.
“So what do you want to do? If you want to change it, I can ask if the principal will give you another day.”
Peta silently handed her work to the teacher and she received it.
Their very last science class was about to begin. After this next hour, they would be moving up to the next level school. But before they could leave, their creations would have to be evaluated. Both Ms. Acacia and the principal, Mr. Erumi, were there. Mr. Erumi himself would be teaching their class this day. He stood in the center of a ring of seated students.
“I really enjoyed reviewing all of your science projects. However there was this one of them…”
He flattened out the rolled piece of paper in front of her chest so that everyone could see it. Peta stopped breathing. It was her picture. Tiny clouds of laughter spread out through the classroom. She then thought she heard someone say, “Oh. we’re starting with the worst.”
“Eww. It’s so weird. Look at it!” another said.
Mr. Erumi looked at Peta and continued.
“So, I’ve decided that this should be the first one to be made.” he said and snapped his fingers.
Suddenly the white room turned aqua blue. From the distance they could see a black dot, which began to come closer. The point became a shadow, which sped towards and past the students. Several startled children tried to jump out of the way of the speeding object. The black shadow came back around and nabbed an unsuspecting fish.
“That was my fish… ” someone said.
Peta was so fascinated that she forgot to breathe.
“It’s alive! It’s swimming. No, it’s flying!” she said.
The image changed. Now the creature was at the water’s edge. It was not as fast, but it had a kind of elegance and the other students couldn’t help but start to like it.
Mr. Erumi was looking at Peta with a glimmer in his eyes.
“It doesn’t have a name yet. May I name it, Peta?” he asked.
Peta nodded in reply.
“Well, because it has bill like a duck (kamo no kuchibashi), lets abbreviate it and call it a kamo no hashi (platypus)!”
Peta thought that it deserved a cuter name, but Mr. Erumi looked very pleased with himself.
“So, it appears that we have come to a decision.” she said.
Ms. Acacia gave a wry smile as Ms. Erumi continued.
“Everyone else’s work was wonderful as well, but there was nothing surprising about them. The platypus surprised us. We adults have been creating new worlds for quite a while now. We’ve seen it all, we are hardly ever surprised anymore. But you students are different, your naiveté gives you potential. I thought you might do something surprising. Take this opportunity to learn from this experience, and use your fresh, new ideas. Even as you go on to higher tiers of education, please do not forget this occasion.”
The class came to an end.
Mr. Erumi spoke to Peta privately outside the classroom.
“Ms. Acacia told me about your many ideas for animals. We have an idea I think you’ll like. We’d like you to make more unique creatures for us. Don’t be afraid to surprise us. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.”
Peta did not go on to the higher school with her classmates. Instead, she was given a position in the divine studio, working with the adults. She worked with them for a very long time. But, one day that work also came to an end; their planet had been created, and now she would be born onto it as living person. Peta was excited to go onto this planet and touch her creations, especially the platypus. She was sad though that she wouldn’t be able to meet another one of her creations, the saber-toothed tiger.
Before she left, she had to leave it up to her principal to put the finishing touches on her platypus. While she didn’t much like the venomous needle the principal gave it, she was happy with how it would lay eggs despite being a mammal.
Then, all of a sudden, she started to feel sleepy.
“While I go to the new world, the me-I-know will be asleep. Good-bye. I’ll be back…and when I do, I will make even more amazing things.” she thought to herself as she drifted off into mortality.
Akimi opened her eyes at the laboratory. She realized that she had fallen asleep at her desk. She felt as though she had just had a dream that she had had once before, a very long time ago.
“What was this dream about? Oh. I can’t remember it now.” she thought to herself.
She was an adult, but you couldn’t tell it from how she was scratching her head with the tip of her pen while slurping cold coffee. She had fallen asleep while she was trying to write up a paper about her recent trip to Australia. As a biologist, Akimi had decided to study quirky and mysterious animals. She was particularly interested in the platypus. The males, despite looking cute and cuddly, hid poisonous spurs on their back legs. This always seemed a little off to Akimi.
She had studied the platypus for a long time. But, while her research hadn’t turned up anything new, she couldn’t tell her boss that. So, instead, she was going to dig a little deeper and find something new soon.
She happily looked at her life-sized figurine of her beloved platypus. She then looked at her picture of a tardigrade (or “water bear”) on the wall. She was fascinated by the way they moved. She had a wide variety of figurines, including a ridiculously large saber-tooth tiger and a rare kiwi bird. She enshrined them all over her area in the lab. Some even encroached into her colleagues’ work spaces. She even had some figures of paranormal creatures, like a kappa and a skyfish. There was also a traditional painting of a Nue, a Japanese mythical creature with the face of a monkey, the legs of a tiger, the body of a Japanese raccoon dog and the front half of a snake.
In other words, there were some weirds things here.
“You haven’t changed a bit, have you Peta.” said a familiar voice.
Akimi, startled, turned in her chair. There was no one there.