Saturdays were her favorite days, but not because it meant she didn’t have to go to school or her parents were home from work, so she wasn’t stuck with the babysitter who smelled funny.
Mina loved it because, every Saturday, her family took a trip to the Museum of What Once Was. She didn’t mind she’d been there dozen of times, looking at the same preserved and salvaged relics from Before every week–because it wasn’t like they could go and get more to add to the Museum.
The first time she went there, she remembered calling Johnny, her older brother, a liar, because she didn’t think the leaf sealed up behind a glass case was real.
She still wished she could touch it.
But she’d been particularly excited to go back to the Museum. Especially since, now, she’d picked a new favorite piece.
None of the rest of her family liked looking at it, however.
Mina didn’t understand why.
Which meant, when it was time for a bathroom break, she walked into the bathroom and waited for her mother to close the stall beside her, before she rushed back out again, knowing Daddy would be in the bathroom for a while, and wouldn’t have a chance to catch her sneaking out. She ran, even though they told you not to, until she finally reached her favorite relic.
It wasn’t the only painting inside the Museum of What Once Was, but it was the only one she cared about.
Mina stared at the painting and wondered what if flowers could ever really look that purple.
If their petals were soft to the touch.
If the petals could truly cover the ground so completely, so it’d feel like you were swimming in a sea of—she leaned closer to read the inscription one more time—lilacs. Part of her even wondered if the lilacs were truly real or just another relic of imagination. But there was a painting of them—a painting housed in a frame of gold, so that had to mean it was real. Once.
She cocked her head to the side, before leaning forward slightly, trying to see around the edges. She wanted to follow the path and discover if it continued and where it led to. She wanted to look up and see how high the trees climbed and whether they ever became bare, or if they were always covered in light purple flowers. Her head angled down while her chin was thrust up in the air as she tried to find the answers, as if twisting her head in different directions would let her see more than just want the painting depicted. She was old enough to know better, know that wasn’t how paintings worked.
Yet still, she wondered.
She wondered why the colors of the sky were green, yet it grew darker on the right hand side. Was the artist who saw this forest and remembered it well enough to paint it alive when the world first started getting sick? She would have been very surprised, if that was the case. How would she survive to finish a painting that was almost three times as tall as she was? And she reached almost up to Daddy’s waist, now.
Her name was being called from somewhere—at least, she thought it was—but she ignored it, continuing to stare at the painting of the purple flowers glowing prettily amongst the green midst. That’s what the painter should have called it, not “The Roads Last Traveled: Lilac Lane.” Her title was way prettier. She even thought, as she looked, that she could make out the trees blowing in the wind. If she closed her eyes, she could almost imagine what it sounded like.
She glanced back, jumping away from the painting. Her mother glared down at her, grabbing her hand roughly. “Don’t scare me, running away like that!”
“I know, mama,” Mina said. “I’m sorry.”
“At least I know where you’ll be,” her mother muttered, not realizing she could still hear her. “Though why you’re obsessed with that painting, I’ll never understand.”
Mina frowned, staring at the ground as they went back to join the rest of their family. She thought her fascination was obvious.
The painter was the only one from Before who shared her last name.
About Nicole Evans
Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. With eight completed drafts in various states of revision under her belt, she has no plans of stopping. And she really can’t wait for you to read these stories.
Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works as an evening librarian assistant. You can find her personal blog here and her book review blog here. You can read all of her Muses stories here.
8 thoughts on “Museum of What Once Was”
OMG THIS IS BEAUTIFUL, Nicole! So hypnotic, the way you described the museum!! I want to visit that place too, and I want to stare at the leaves. And that last line shows SO MUCH PROMISE of a bigger, more sinister backstory!!!
Aww, Joyce, thank you so, so much!! I definitely feel like it would be a sinister story, if I continued with it, so I’m glad that feeling came through in the story itself!
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This was lovely, I loved Mina’s voice throughout, and then THAT last line….I could see this being an amazing middle grade book maybe, where she goes on a quest to dis cover more about the artist?? Sorry, getting carried away 😛
Awww, thank you so much, Meredith! Hey, I’m all about getting carried away with short story ideas into something grander and larger! I have to remember we have all these whenever I have a brain funk and need to start a new project, because I have a few stories I wouldn’t mind expanding on!
I did not want the story to end…such emotion and depth in a brief selection of sentences.
Aww, thank you *so* much, Denise!!!
Great story! I really enjoyed the layers of world-building you inserted through the painting, and then connected it to Mina in a very real way.
Oh wow, thanks Steve!! I didn’t feel as great as about this story as I have some others, so your comment really meant a lot!
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