The Garden of Ideas
We are sitting on a stone bench, my brother Jacobi and I, amidst a leafy canopy in a large garden that smells sweet and fresh. Flowers nestle below my feet and the trees are moist with dew, although I don’t know how that could be because it’s late afternoon. It’s the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen and Jacobi, who’s been here lots of times, told me you can walk for days and days and meet all kinds of Neopets but whenever you want to go back you can be home in an instant. There’s a queer kind of magic in the garden. It feels new, like this is the first time the flowers have bloomed and the trees have grown fresh leaves.
An old white Poogle is leaning against an enormous oak tree in front of us whose branches stretch as far as the sky ends, snoring loudly, his thick round glasses sliding further and further down his nose as he grunts and murmurs in his sleep. He spoke to us only a few minutes ago, greeting us and welcoming me to Jacobi’s garden, introducing himself as Inspiration, and then he was back down by that tree, snoring noisily like he is now.
My brother Jacobi is older than I am, an electric Kougra who writes books, actual books that have been published. I’m a purple Kyrii, and I write stories too sometimes, often as homework for school, but my stories aren’t like his. My characters don’t seem as alive as his are, the plot isn’t as interesting, and often I just can’t think of ideas. He’s written books like After the Battle and A New Day, which lots of my friends have read. I’ve read them too, and I can’t figure out how he makes them to be so different from mine. We’re here today because I asked him where his ideas came from.
I expected him to say something stupid like, “Take one part flour, two parts milk and stir it up with baked apple and cinnamon” but instead he said he’d take me there. “There’s an actual place?” I asked, surprised, and he nodded and said, “Well, there’s a place. Whether it’s actual remains to be seen. But it’s wonderful for getting ideas – inspiration lies everywhere.”
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but he had his ‘Just wait and all will be revealed’ expression on, so I didn’t push further questions.
And then suddenly, as we sit on our stone bench there comes out of the large shaded trees a young Faerie Kau, a Royal Elephante with her as they stroll through the garden, and they’re talking to each other. Neither of them notices Jacobi or me, even though we’re sitting right in front of them and we’re the only ones here in the garden, apart from Inspiration over by his tree, still sleeping away completely unaware of everything around him. The Faerie Kau says, “Yes, but if Ilse thinks he’s serious, then –” and the Elephante interrupts her: “You know what Ilse is like – she doesn’t understand exaggeration.”
Jacobi is watching them intently, with a look on his face that suggests to me he’s seen the two before. I can’t think why they don’t see us. Maybe they’re looking too hard – the more I stare at them, the less they seem to be there. The scent of the white flowers growing nearby reminds me of something, but I’m not sure what it is. They continue to talk about someone named Ilse and the Faerie Kau starts looking a bit upset. I’m wondering if we should go and greet them and introduce ourselves, but they disappear before I can stand up.
Inspiration snores on.
“Hmmn,” Jacobi muses. I wait patiently for him to explain, but he seems to want to keep me in the dark about everything here.
“Who were they?” I say finally.
“Cate and her friend Luaan, the Royal Elephante,” Jacobi explains. “I think Cate’s concerned because her teacher threatened to ban the two of them from sitting together in class, and their friend Ilse told Cate he’s serious about it. It’s probably even harder for her because Luaan doesn’t like Ilse, so she never believes anything Ilse tells her.”
‘Have you met them before?” I ask.
“No. I’d never seen them until now.”
“But how –”
“You can’t expect Inspiration to do all the work for you, Petrina,” Jacobi says, smiling. “He gives you a starting point, and you have to take it from there.”
It was a rainy Saturday when Jacobi decided to take me to his Garden of Ideas. That was what he called it. I had never heard of such a place, but then he opened up one of his books, Wonderful World of Gardening, and showed me a small entry in the index that I must have missed when I read it: Garden of Ideas, page 121. I flipped through the book, but there was no page 121. It ended at page 120. There was simply a blank page after that.
I stared at him. “What is this?”
“That’s the point of a blank page,” Jacobi said, as if it was blatantly obvious. “You’re meant to fill it in yourself.”
He’d kept putting it off all week whenever I questioned him about it, saying we’d go soon. I hated the word ‘soon’, and eventually I came to believe there was no such place where you could go to be inspired. He’d made it up to trick me.
I was sitting by my bedroom window, watching the droplets trickle down the glass, daydreaming about living in Mystery Island where I bet it never rains. Jacobi walked past my bedroom, not even looking at me, but simply called out, “I’m going today, Petrina. Want to come?”
I scrambled after him as he travelled down the corridor. “You’re going to get ideas? Isn’t it a bit wet?” I asked. “There’ll be mud everywhere.”
“It doesn’t rain in there,” he said, “unless you want it to.”
All of a sudden it does begin raining, though not where we’re sitting on our stone bench, nor over at the tree where Inspiration sleeps. It rains just to the left of the tree, where a young Baby JubJub lies, wailing loudly. He’s dirty and disheveled, a large brown cloth wrapped around him, and I feel compelled to pick him up and soothe his woes. Thankfully the door opens – a door I never noticed before but I’m sure was there all the time – and a pink Uni steps out.
She stares at the little JubJub, who hushes at the sight of her. Then she sighs deeply before scooping him up.
“Oh, Winn,” she says pensively. “I didn’t think you’d have the courage to give him up.” She takes the JubJub through the door and as it closes I hear her singing a lullaby softly. The lullaby wafts around the garden long after the door has faded into the greenery again.
“Poor Winn,” Jacobi says sadly. I think I can guess what’s coming now so I get there first.
“Who would have thought,” I say dramatically, just like Jacobi does, “that eating a Halloween Donut could lead to so much tragedy?” I’m beginning to get the gist of what this garden is all about.
“She should have checked the box first,” my brother agrees, “before she ate it.”
Inspiration snores on.
As Jacobi walked down the hallway I expected him to turn right and go down the stairs, and out into the front yard. After all, gardens are usually outside, except in Maraqua where one of my friends told me they have actual indoor backyards. But instead he turned left, into his bedroom, and sat down at his desk. He pulled up a chair beside him and said, “Are you coming or not? You can’t always go when you want to. The time has to be right, and it’s right now.”
“This,” I said skeptically, “is where you go when you need an idea?”
“Patience, Petrina,” he said, and so I waited. We sat for a long time like that. Jacobi seemed to know what was going on, but I was growing impatient of staring at his back wall.
And then – I don’t know how it happened – I blinked and we were where we are now, the stone bench in this new spring garden, with Inspiration sleeping against his tree. The sun is beginning to set and nothing much is happening at the moment. I swing my legs to and fro.
“So this is where you go,” I say, “when you’re ready to write another book?”
Jacobi grins, and I can tell he likes it here. “Not necessarily,” he says. “Do you remember reading Where the Elephantes Roam? I was walking home one day from the Arts Centre and overheard a Pteri saying, ‘Poor Bibble – she’s been stuck there for two years.’ It made me wonder who Bibble was, where she was trapped and why. I ended up writing a book about her. It’s just a matter of feeling inspired by what you see, and having the courage to attempt to put it into words.”
I question the reality of his last sentence, wondering if it isn’t just some wordy poetic author-esque description of writing, but I have to admit it sounds pleasant. “So what’s the point in coming here if you can just take anything you see, whether it’s at the bookstore or by the Rainbow Fountain?”
Jacobi shrugs. “Well,” he says, and doesn’t finish because an Apple Chia has stumbled out from behind a tree with a Pink Neopets 7th Birthday Tamborine in his stubby hands, banging it and shouting, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Rockmelon!” He skips around the large oak tree where Inspiration is still sleeping; performing what look likes jazz ballet steps before tripping and tumbling out of sight. It’s very short but it makes me giggle. As soon as the Chia’s gone Jacobi stands up. “We better go, Petrina.”
“Already? We’ve hardly seen anything yet.”
“Time passes more quickly here,” Jacobi says. “Haven’t you ever been in a wonderful daydream at school and find that the lesson’s over within two minutes?”
It annoys me how Jacobi’s always right.
We wave good-bye to Inspiration, who wakes up momentarily to wave back. As we step through the moist grass I ask, “Why is Inspiration sleeping all the time?”
Jacobi looks at me strangely. “What do you mean?”
“The old white Poogle who slept all through our visit –”
“There was no white Poogle,” Jacobi says, “at least not for me. Inspiration appears in the form of an energetic young Island Babaa in my eyes. You think Inspiration is the same for everyone?”
I’m shocked. “So you really didn’t see the Poogle? But he said he knew you –”
“He knows everyone,” Jacobi said as he walks towards his desk, “but many don’t know him.” He stops and stares at me. “Are you going to stand there all day, Petrina?”
It takes a moment before I realise we’re no longer in the garden. I feel a bit light-headed as I walk back to my bedroom. Strangely, although it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, I don’t have a wish to go back to the garden any time soon. My thoughts swirl with Apple Chias and an Elephante called Luaan, and the baby JubJub who the pink Uni rescued from the rain.
And then I see the pile of homework I have for the weekend. Maths questions (ugh) and spelling words to learn (ugh) and a story to write. As my pen touches the paper words flow out of it, about a young Clay JubJub named Winn who accidentally eats the last Halloween Donut in the box without knowing it belongs to Dr. Sloth, and who spends her life terrified that he’ll wreak his revenge on her Baby JubJub, so she leaves him on the doorstep of her friend the pink Uni knowing he’ll be safe there.
And when I’m finished I take another piece of paper and write down everything I can remember from the Garden of Ideas, because there’s no telling when Inspiration will provide for me again and I want to savour everything he produces for me from behind every tree.