The little boy scampered along the edge of the blank space, his pen, as always, clutched tightly in his hand. He squatted down, frowning, not in displeasure—no one ever saw him exhibit that—but in intense concentration. Carefully he drew a thick, bold line, almost as high as his head, curving slightly at the top and the bottom. He scrambled around it and drew another line beside it, similar but curving the other way, so that the curves faced away from each other. More quickly, he scribbled some smaller lines between the two; then, satisfied with his trunk, traced atop it the jagged outline of a small cloud of leaves. In the middle of this, he drew a small half-circle, added some little sticks protruding from it, then eagerly inserted the crowning glory: three small birds peering out from the little nest. He then stepped back to watch. The birds blinked, twitched, and rose fluttering out of the nest, warbling gaily. The boy beamed and jumped in delight, watched another few moments, then scurried on to draw something else.
Thus he ever was, never anxious but never still, well known as the merriest inhabitant of that Space. Whether other, equally contented souls lived in other Spaces in the Sketch, no one could say. The Sketch was a canvas so great and wide that none of its residents could say much about it beyond their own corner or area. No one could be sure what it was a picture “of” in its entirety, only what they saw drawn around them. Seldom did any travel from one Space to another, for the Spaces were bordered by wide swaths of blank Space. Most avoided these altogether, as empty waste; but now and then, some adventurous soul would venture across from one filled Space to another, tracing a line beside him to keep from getting lost. Others, reasoning that more than mere lines could be drawn in the blank Space, decorated bits of that Space with figures and drawings of their own. These never quite matched the original Sketchings, but some bore a considerable resemblance.
In the creation of these drawings, the little boy spent his days—in the proverbial sense; for, when reminded, he did also enjoy playing with other children and with animals, and sometimes stopped to help someone carry wood or collect their turnips. If no one had ever called his attention, however, he could have devoted every waking minute to his art. This art was, after his cheerfulness, the chief reason for his reputation. Not that he could otherwise have passed quite unnoticed, for the Space where he lived was not a densely peopled one; it mostly included woods and mountains, with some little houses gathered between them. But, of all the people and animals dwelling there, few had much interest in art, and fewer still could imagine devoting so much time to it as did this child. “He was drawn with a pen in his hand,” someone would occasionally remark, by way of explanation, almost invariably to hear, “Sure he was—same as everyone! But when did you last so much as pick up yours?”
People marveled, not only that he spent so much time at drawing, but that he never seemed any less excited by it. He would often chant a little song as he worked, in words that sounded like no language anyone knew—the shorter version, which he sang most often, went something like De hic ad ibi, de hic ad ibi. This song had earned him his nickname of “Hickleby,” which everyone called him, as no one seemed to know his proper name. If anyone asked him where he got those words, he grinned and replied, “I heard the Artist say them.” This was the wildest claim anyone had heard, that someone in the Sketch had heard the Artist’s voice. Few could bring themselves quite to believe it, yet no one could conceive of Hickleby lying. If anyone asked how he knew the voice had been the Artist, he would only shrug.
As time went by without much changing, most people grew used to Hickleby’s unwearying joy, energy, and absorption in drawing. They might wonder at him, but they seldom questioned. One day, however, a curious visitor came looking for him.
The calico cat was a recent addition to the Space, having been drawn there only a few days ago. As she had not yet met the happy little artist of whom all her new neighbors spoke, she soon set out to meet him and see for herself. She found him, as she had expected, near the edge of the blank Space, busily drawing a vine. He seemed to be having some difficulty making the leaves and branches without tangling them, but was nonetheless brightly murmuring his little chant.
“Are you Hickleby?” the cat meowed, padding as near the blank Space as she dared set her paws. Several moments of silence passed. Evidently the boy was so absorbed in his work that he hadn’t heard. Finally the cat repeated her question. “Boy, are you Hickleby? The artist child of whom everyone speaks?”
At last he stopped and turned to see her. “Mm-hm—they call me Hickleby. Wow, you’re a pretty cat. What do they call you?”
The calico smiled and purred. “I am Mmrrriaa-riaoou.”
Hickleby frowned thoughtfully, moved his mouth silently for a few moments, then shook his head. “I don’t think I can say that,” he concluded, half wondering and half apologetic.
“Mmmm, you have not a cat’s speaking powers,” the calico purred tolerantly. “I wished to see you because all speak of you. They say . . . you are always joyful.” She released the last few words slowly and carefully, as if trying to articulate very precisely some obscure concept.
Hickleby smiled and shrugged. “Well . . . I guess so. Life is so good. Living in the Sketch is good. The Sketchings are beautiful. I like them, and I like how I can make more.”
The calico’s tail switched back and forth as she pondered these words. “Mmmm. Tell me, Hickleby, what sort of home is yours?”
“Hm?” For a moment the boy looked a bit surprised, but then he replied simply, “I live under the sycamore tree by the bottom of Middle Mountain.”
The calico blinked. “You . . . a human? Under a tree?”
“Not in a hole like a rabbit,” Hickleby hastened to explain, laughing. “I have a little house there. A door, white walls, a floor. My bed and all the stuff I need. It’s little, but it’s a good house.”
“Mm-mm-mm.” The calico purred thoughtfully, seeming to think this not quite satisfactory. “Stuff . . . what things have you there?”
The boy thought a moment. “Well . . . my pen. A box for my pen. Another box for food. My cup. My favorite rocks from the stream.”
The calico shook her head. “Mmmm, well . . . that is not so much . . . hmmm. So, who looks after you? Who provides for you?”
Hickleby paused a moment, considering his reply, then smiled again. “The Artist.”
“Mmriaow, the Artist? Yes, they tell me you say you heard the Artist’s voice,” the calico said. “But who in the Sketch belongs to you? Tell me about your family. Everyone who is content must have one. I am a contented cat because a fine family belongs to me. They give me meat and a soft bed; the small ones entertain me when I wish. Who belongs to you?”
Hickleby shook his head. “Nobody. I live by myself.”
The calico switched her tail harder, her sharply glinting eyes narrowing in a puzzled frown. For a long while she stared silently ahead. In fact, she was silent so long that Hickleby turned back to drawing his vine. At last, however, she spoke again. “You are not a very wise child.”
“Hm?” The boy jerked to attention, an innocent perplexity on his face. The calico elaborated, “It is not sense to be joyful. We are only Sketchings. All that we see and know is only a Sketch. Some day—mmriaow, who knows when?—it will all be destroyed. Our world will be taken down and die. So I am not joyful—but I am contented, because I have all the things that please me. My food and my bed, my playthings, my swift legs and strong paws, and honor from my family. With these things I can be pleased with my life until it is destroyed. But you—what have you to please you and divert you from our destruction? You have almost nothing. Your home is a small hollow, like a mouse’s. No one gives things to you or honors you. You are foolish to be joyful—you understand nothing.”
At this, Hickleby’s face suddenly grew radiant with excitement. “Oh, no no no!” he exclaimed, gesturing wildly in his intense fervor. “No, it’s not that way at all. No no!” He went on ecstatically sputtering for almost a minute, while the calico waited, squinting critically and swinging her tail almost like a whip. Finally, without slowing his speech at all, the boy proceeded to explain. “Yes, yes, the Sketch will be destroyed. But we won’t be destroyed. The Artist will make us into something new—he’s going to put us in a Painting.”
“Mreow?” The calico looked puzzled again. “What is that? How will we go there?”
“I don’know,” Hickleby replied, “but I’m so excited to see! The Painting won’t be destroyed—it’ll stay! And everything will look way nicer—more bright and more real! And—”
“How more real?!” the calico broke in scornfully. “How can a real fish look ‘more’ real, when it was real before?”
Hickleby shrugged, looked around and waved his hands for a bit before finally answering, “I . . . I don’know . . . but when it looks like it’s s’posed to be, then it looks more real, I guess.” When the calico responded only with mmmmm, he went on, “Things in the Painting will have color. I’ve seen color in my dreams sometimes. It’s . . . um, it’s sorta like white, and sorta like black, but . . . but not like them. And it’s sorta like gray, but not like that, too. It’s so . . . so wonderful! Makes me so excited!”
The calico still looked as if she thought this odd. “How do you know all these things?”
Hickleby shrugged again. “I don’know . . . I think the Artist told me, maybe. But I don’know how. I just know it.”
“Mmmmm . . .” The calico continued to frown in thought, but her tail now lay still. “And your . . . your own sketchings—will they be put into the . . . Painting . . . as well?”
“I think so,” the boy answered, smiling. “That makes me the most happy—me, helping the Artist, adding something to his Painting.” Glancing at his little scrawled vine, he added, “My Sketchings aren’t just like his, of course. But still kind of like. In a little way. They can still help finish the Painting.”
The calico looked at the vine too. “Mrew, is that a plant you are making?” Hickleby nodded. She further inquired, “Are there . . . small creatures within it?”
“I can draw some bugs in it if you want,” he offered.
The calico paused, considering this, but then shook her head. “Finish your Sketching, and let it . . . all live. For a while. Later, perhaps, I will return and see if anything is hiding in it.”
“Okay.” Hickleby nodded. “You wanna watch me draw it?”
The calico paused in thought again, then sat down. “Mmmm, yes, I will watch,” she purred. “Perhaps I will find out why you think as you do.”
At this, the boy’s face again lit up with a warm glow of delight. He turned back eagerly to his vine and went on growing it upwards, all the while chanting the longer version of his song, reserved for moments of special exultation:
De hic, ubi crescunt,
Ad ibi, ubi vivunt!