Palo Alto Weekly 23rd Annual Short Story
“ALEXIS MARGRET PAYNE, COME DOWN THIS MINUTE!” Alex sighed huffily and blew a strand of hair away from her face. “Yes mother, coming.” She dragged herself to the brim of the staircase. “What?” This form stair case communication was often used between mother and daughter. Her mom looked at her dressed in her 6th grade PE uniform with a raised eyebrow, but made no move to make a comment. Alex glanced down at her dour faced at repeated “What?” But instead of answering her question, her mother asked sharply, “Didn’t I ask you to clean that chocolate ice cream puddle off the dining table? Huh? Now, my second best shirt is ruined!” Her voice rose higher and higher until it blew like a tea kettle. “Umm no” Alex muttered. But she came down stairs to clean it anyway.
After a much hurried breakfast, (five minutes and 18 seconds, a new record!) the family departed the kitchen table. David and Bosh, Alex’s two brothers, went out to play basketball. Alex longed to join them but her mom made her take care of house work. “Basketball is for boys.” She would always chide. Alex sulked and stared at the picture that was about to be wrapped. It was a watercolor painting of Venice. Alex’s mom bought at the local wine and art festival from a local artist. An assortment of trees lay in the foreground. Behind it laid a water city with bridges and canals .There was one house that Alex’s eyes always seemed to wander to. It was a small house. There were wooden doors, and glass paned windows. A few shingles lay fallen from the roof. By the house, there was a small, brown bench. The left leg of the bench was a little rotted. The paint was peeling off. By the doorway, there was an old lady standing, waving and smiling at her. Sure, among other houses, it wasn’t special, but it looked so real, she couldn’t help looking at it. In the right corner of the painting, Alex noticed the artist’s signature and the words “Venice, 1804”. Alex thought the painting was very pretty, but her mom complained that they had no room for it. When it was wrapped the next day, they would send it to the junk yard to be crushed. Alex was very sad to see it about to go.
The day went as all weekend days for the Payne’s family. Alex’s dad went to do work in his office, Alex and her mother yelled at each other, Alex’s brother went to play ball, and Alex was stuck at home sulking the whole day. That night, she went to bed at the usual time, not bothering to change from her PE shorts to her Pajamas, feeling sorrowful for the painting. Slowly, she drifted to sleep.
Alex awoke the next morning, feeling quite tired. She crawled out off a wooden bench, and tried to find her slippers. They were not anywhere. Confused, her eyes scanned the strange house in front of her. Where am I? She wondered. Am I still in a dream? Why did this house look so familiar? “Why, hello,” a voice perked. Alex turned around, startled. She found an old woman standing by the doorway. “Who are you?” Alex asked. The old lady replied, “Donata.” Why did she seem so familiar? “Where am I?” Donata replied simply, “Venice.” She was rubbing her right arm, as if she was holding it up for a long time. She looked at the wooden bench she just slept on. Its left leg was rotted. Paint peeled off. She stared at the too familiar house and the old lady. That’s when Alex realized something. This could not be. Did she enter the painting?
Clink. A shingle fell off the roof as the old lady led Alex inside. Donata said nothing but handed her an outfit of the strangest clothes. There was a white blouse-like shirt, brown, baggy pants, a wool vest and a brown hat. “Why are you handing me that?” She asked. Donata replied, “Well, you can’t go around the streets wearing that.” Alex glanced down at her outfit. Oh, she was still wearing P.E. uniform. “I am not wearing that puffy outfit. Without another word, she ran out of the house.
Alex passed a gathering of people crowding a podium. Alex could hear, “Last year, 1803, Marcus de Palo made a discovery of witches. Ever since then, we have been getting rid of them.” 1803? Wasn’t this 2008? So this was really Venice, 1804. Alex thought. I’m really in the painting.
“Oi! You over there!” Alex whirled around, surprised. She came face to face (more like face to waist) to a tall, bearded man. “You! Answer me!” Alex was speechless. “Why are you wearing cutoff pants and a cutoff shirt?” And what is on you wrist? You are a witch.” He yelled. Alex glanced at her wrist. Uh oh she thought. Venice didn’t have digital watches in 1804. The giant glared at her. “You are coming with me, missy”
The giant dragged Alex to a town gathering and displayed her in front of the gathering. Alex suddenly felt like a bug under a microscope. The town murmured to each other. Could this person really be a witch? They wondered. The answer hung in the air. Yes. Yes she was.
“Let me out! Let me out!” Alex’s cries could be heard miles away. She sat there and brooded. It was time for the guard’s lunch. They peered at her, and said, “No trouble from you, girl.” Alex sullenly nodded. Then, as soon as they were gone, she started to pick the lock. She was famous for picking locks at her school. Yes, it was hard, but eventually, she got it and she was out of the jail cell. She swerved around the guard’s desk, remembering the doorway, and she snuck past the guards. Crack! She stepped on a twig! But, the guards’ loud guffawing was enough to cover. With her heart pounding, she escaped.
Alex ran all the way back to Donata’s house. “See, what did I tell you?” Donata asked in a disapproving tone. Alex ignored her. “How do I get out of here?” “Donata sighed and replied, “There is a painting of your home here. You have to find it though; I don’t know where it is.” Before Donata could say another word, Alex was gone, searching for the painting.
Here? No. There? No. Where was the painting? Alex looked into every corner of Venice, but she could not find it. She stepped under a bridge, avoided the rushing water, and before she knew it, she was out again. Then, she walked in front of an unfamiliar street. Measly people laid on the street, sweating with flies swarming around them, beggars picked scraps of unrecognizable pieced of food, there were people fighting over a slice of bread, and at last, a girl hovering over something. Alex stepped to the right and her heart leaped. A picture of Hoover Tower stood in the background, and her house was noticeable among all the other houses. This was her home!
“Excuse me,” Alex said gently. “I’m sorry Peter! I will sell the painting!” The girl cried. Alex was quite confused by the girl’s remark. “I’m not Peter.” Alex said. The girl looked up. “George?” She asked. “Err... I’m not George either.” Alex replied. “I was wondering if I could have that painting of yours.” “How much?” The girl narrowed her beady eyes. “Umm, I’ll give you my digital watch.” Alex offered. Before Alex had the chance to say err again, the girl responded with a quick sharp nod. “Sounds good.” They made a quick exchange and Alex ran out of the street, taking a deep breath of relief.
Alex raced through Venice, realizing that someone was following her. She skidded on her tracks, and could hear footsteps slowing down. She looked at the town clock and panicked. The painting at her house could be in the junk yard now! She turned around. There was the giant, grinning and stretching his arms out at her. Alex shut her eyes from the trouble she was in.
Five seconds. Ten seconds. Nothing. Alex opened her eyes again and oh! She was in her own bedroom again, alive and whole. “MISSY! GET YOURSELF DOWN HERE THIS INSTANT! Alex’s mother called. Hmm… maybe the whole thing was a dream. “Hi Mom!” Alex called. Alex’s mom looked at her queerly. “Where’s your watch?” She asked. Alex looked. Then, she smiled. She looked at the painting in the corner of the house, not yet wrapped. Her eyes wandered to that one lively house, with Donata smiling and waving, with the outfit that she never wore laying on the bench.
A fine story with a protagonist who is lively, likeable, and believable. The details about Venice ring true and are well done, and the story moves along quickly with plenty of conflict and suspense.
Short story writers wanted!
The 31st Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 13, 2017. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.