Home > Uncategorized > Day Forty-eight: Creative Thinking

Day Forty-eight: Creative Thinking

There was a glass of water, a green ball-point pen, and a piece of loose-leaf notepaper on the table. Nicholas drummed his fingers and looked up at the large mirror set into the wall. It was double-sided, of course. If he could see through, there’d be a small flock of guys in suits staring at him. Somehow, the fact that he couldn’t see them just made it worse.

Water. Pen. Paper. They had sat him here and a man in a white coat, carrying a clipboard, said, “This is a test of creative thinking. Please write whatever comes to your mind for five minutes. The timer will begin when you start writing. Once you have started, do not stop until directed.” Having delivered his instructions, the man ticked something off on his clipboard, left the room and locked the door.

Creative thinking. What the hell was that supposed to mean? And why the two-way mirror? The room was tiny, like those interrogation rooms you saw in police dramas, and he was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. He had been approached out of the blue in his college dining hall by Dr. Eva Bettencourt, the head of the psychology department. That was his first clue. He wasn’t a psych major, so there was no reason she should have even known his name, much less where he was at any given time.

She had approached him, passing by several other tables to get there. “Mister Ingram,” she said. “I need you to sign this.” She slapped a form down in front of him.

Nicholas didn’t even stop chewing his chicken much less look at the form. “No.”

She blinked and resettled her glasses. “Mister Ingram,” she said again, “I can’t stress this enough. This is very important.” She had a British tone to her voice, slurring out her “r” sounds. With her flat American “a” it just sounded weird.

“I’m sure it is,” he said, swallowing his food. “I just don’t care.”

She took the glasses off. “Mister. Ingram.” Dr. Bettencourt steepled her fingers in front of her. “I have spoken to your advisor. Dr. Keniston informed me that you would be an ideal subject for a study I am doing.” She smiled, and it looked like she’d practiced. “Your participation is essential.”

Nicholas leaned back. “There’s about a hundred other students in here right now. Why me?” And why had she gone to Keniston? A question for later.

“But I want you,” she said. He snickered, and it took a moment before she blushed. “To be in this study,” she finished.


She sat down across the table from him. “Your advisor tells me that you’re one of the most creative writers she’s seen come through her class in a long time.” Nicholas arched an eyebrow, but didn’t interrupt. “She showed me some of your stories and poetry, and I have to say that I was impressed. Your use of imagery and metaphor show a clearly dominant right hemisphere, signs of very creative thinking. I’m doing some research in that field, and as soon as I read your stories, I knew that you were someone who had to be involved.”

Nicholas nodded a little. “Which one did you read?”

“Pardon?” She was tapping the form absently.

“Which stories?”

“Does it matter? Mister Ingram, with your help, I could make some clear advances in my research.” She slid the form over to him and took a pen from her pocket. “Do the right thing.”

He stretched languidly and put his hands behind his head. “What’s in it for me?”

“One hundred dollars and free meals for a week.”

“Sold.” He yanked the pen from her hand and signed the form. She took the top copy, handed the carbon to him, and told him to be at the psychology center on Saturday at noon. Without another word, she stood up and stalked out of the dining hall.

Whatever he expected of a creativity study, what he found at the psych center wasn’t it. He had to have a medical exam, which included drawing blood, a chest x-ray, and an EKG reading. He asked what it was for, and they just said, “Standard procedure.” They wouldn’t say anything else, except to ask some very personal questions, give him instructions and tell him when to put his clothes back on. He didn’t see Dr. Bettencourt anywhere, but he was pretty sure she was watching.

When the physical was over, he was sent into another room, where he was shown images and asked to say whether he liked them or didn’t like them. Some – the kitten, the girl in a bikini, the rainbow – he liked. Others – the pit bull, the President, the tsunami – he didn’t. There were about two hundred of these, and he was asked to do them as fast as possible. A guy in a white coat, carrying a clipboard, made some notes and then wordlessly led him to the next room.

This test was followed by another, wherein he had to fit geometric shapes together to form a specific pattern. It was accompanied by a ticking clock and a digital timer that noted how long it was taking for him to finish. When he finally made the shape – what looked like a duck in a sombrero – the guy in the white coat took him to the tiny room, read him his instructions, and left him there.

Nicholas stared at the table. The water. The pen. The paper. He looked up at the mirror.

Then, carefully, he picked up the pen. He imagined them getting excited behind the mirror, scribbling away on their damned clipboards.

He dropped the pen in the glass. It was a tall glass and a short pen, so it wound up completely submerged.

Write about that.

He folded the piece of paper twice, laid it over the top of the glass, and quickly flipped it over. A little water slipped out before he was able to set it down on the table again, but most of it stayed inside. He slid the paper out from under the glass, crumpled it up, and tossed it at the mirror. “When do I get my hundred bucks?” he yelled.

There was silence for a minute or two. Then a speaker in the ceiling crackled to life. “Thank you, Mister Ingram,” a man said. “Please see the receptionist on your way out.” The door popped open.

The hell? Nicholas stood and went to the door. He pulled it open slowly. “I’ve seen this movie,” he muttered. He waited, counting to ten, and then stuck his head out the door.

There was no one in the corridor. He crept out of the room, trying to look casual and alert at the same time, and failing at both. He tried to remember which corners he had turned to get there, but his memory was full of rainbows and shark attacks and ducks wearing hats. He had to backtrack a few times after finding locked doors and broom closets. He wondered how big this place was.

The weirdest thing was that there was no one there. He seemed to remember lots of people scurrying about, all in lab coats and carrying clipboards. But now, every hallway looked like every other hallway, and there was no one there. He tried more doors, but they were locked.

“Hello?” he yelled. “Anyone there?” His voice echoed down the halls, but no one came. He started to jog, taking random lefts and rights, but there still seemed to be no way out. In moments, he was running, skidding around corners. This was impossible. There was no way the facility was this big, but he couldn’t be sure. He wondered what they had really been doing to him in those tests. Playing hypnotic messages, messing with his brain. He could see Bettencourt doing it, too – watching as whatever weird little experiment she’d set up slowly ate away at his brain.

He chose another random door, and this time the handle turned. He nearly laughed with relief, flung the door open and rushed through.

It was a small room, with a table in the middle. A chair was at the table, facing a large mirror that was set into the wall. On the table was a glass of water, a green ball-point pen, and a piece of loose-leaf notepaper.

“Oh you have got to be kidding me,” Nicholas said.

  1. July 18, 2011 at 1:19 AM

    Very clever circular story, it would seem that Nicholas is in his own hellish version of ‘Groundhog day’ Who would believe that creative writing could turn into such a nightmarish trap?

  1. July 10, 2011 at 10:36 PM
  2. July 16, 2011 at 8:24 PM
  3. June 8, 2012 at 3:06 AM

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