Fall, 2007
24-Hour Short Story Contest
2nd Place Winner!

The vivid hues of the foliage seemed to bring the painting to life. Intrigued, she leaned closer. Blowing rapidly down the cobblestone road, the artist's yellow leaves were a dazzling gold, the red leaves burned a deep, unnatural maroon, more beautiful than reality, and the dark orange leaves faded around their edges, as if they couldn't decide which color they wanted to be. She peered closer still, desperately wishing to be there, in that place so far away, and so long ago. Her senses seemed to respond to her subconscious desires and she blinked back startled tears when she suddenly inhaled the scent of wood smoke, felt a cold wind stirring her hair, and saw a movement in the distance...

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.

Eye Of The Beholder
By Megan Fraedrich, Springfield, VA

Every day for the last ten years, Eglantine had come to look at the painting. She couldn't help it, really. It was like ignoring a jumbo chocolate cheesecake levitating in front of her face, and giving in gave her the same slightly guilty pleasure.

It wasn't that the picture was original. It was just another oil painting of a pastoral English landscape, depicting a little farmhouse, a cobblestone road, a glade of trees, a young man and a white horse. But there was something so warm and inviting about the rosy glow of the painting, and it seemed to draw Eglantine into it every time she glanced its way. She could almost smell the smoky air and feel the dew on the grass beneath her feet.

It was a painting of a simpler time, a time when paintings were simpler. She knew it seemed stupid to call such an industriously detailed picture 'simpler' than the minimalist splatters of paint that seemed to pass for modern art, but it was so easy to look at the picture and see that it was a painting of a man and his horse and his home. It didn't 'symbolize' anything. It wasn't a random blob of red gloop on a canvas serving as an 'artistic' depiction of loneliness or angst or bowel trouble or anything. It was just a picture of a young man.

And the man - Eglantine had to admit it, he was the real reason she couldn't look away. He looked so real that she could almost hear him saying her name, and she could swear she'd seen him wink.

He was a tall, proud-featured man of twenty or so, with gingery hair tied in a ponytail, his breech-clad legs crossed leisurely as he leaned back against the fence of the paddock. He looked casual and relaxed, the top two or three buttons of his shirt undone, his sleeves were rolled up, and his waistcoat open. He was holding a juicy red apple in his hand, feeding it to his white horse. And he wore a mischievous, self-satisfied smirk across his face, one of his eyebrows raised as though he had just made some sort of witty remark.

Every day, Eglantine told herself that she was going to go pay him a visit, walk right up to his farmhouse and ask if she could borrow some sugar, strike up a conversation. It wasn't so unusual. Just the other day, she'd seen the Mona Lisa squatting among Monet's water lilies, trying to catch tadpoles. Degas' dancers were constantly trying in vain to flirt with the many portraits of apostles and saints. And Brughel's rambunctious peasant children liked nothing better than to play pranks on Rembrandt's stiff-collared nobles.

But that was different. Eglantine wasn't like them at all. No, she had to be the one painted by a stupid cubist. Idiot Picasso. What had he been thinking when he'd painted her, anyway? There was no way she could ever show her face to the young man in the painting across the room, looking the way she did. Whose bright idea had it been to hang them in the same room?

The plaque stuck under her frame read "Weeping Woman," and she certainly wasn't weeping with happiness. Every time she thought she was feeling a bit better, she'd catch a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror and it would start her off again.

When Botticelli's Venus had gotten a pimple on her nose, she'd thrown a hissy fit. Eglantine couldn't help but laugh a bit at the goddess's overreaction.

"You think it's bad having a pimple on your nose?" she'd thought. "Try having yellow and green skin with a nose sticking out of the side of your face. Try having uneven eyes and a purple mouth with fingers growing out of it. Try having a hat like a radioactive Pizza Hut logo with a sea urchin sticking out of it and hair with ridiculous rainbow streaks. See how you like that, Venus."

She knew she was bitter, but it was hard not to be in a room full of such gorgeous paintings. Wasn't art created to be a thing of beauty? And if so, what on earth was she? Certainly not art.

Eglantine had daydreams, of course. Who didn't? In hers, she stepped into the magnificent painting of the English countryside only to discover that she'd changed to match the painting perfectly. In her daydreams, her hair was smooth and black and she had creamy, peach-coloured skin and a straight nose. Her eyes were level and her hands were graceful, and her tears would dry up.

And in those daydreams, the young man would turn his head and smile at her, and help her up onto his horse, and they'd ride off into the sunset, never to return to her own canvas.

Eglantine sighed and looked once more at the painting of the young man.

He was gone. The landscape was empty, just another painting of a farmhouse and a horse, nobody in sight.

"Great," she thought, fresh tears springing to her eyes. "He's probably gone off to visit that French princess in the pink gown in the next room. Perfect."

"Hey," said a voice behind her. "Why are you crying?"

She whirled around to see a tall man standing there. His skin was blue and green, his square eyes squinty and uneven, his mouth was on the side of his head, and his blocky purple hands held a triangular blue apple. She had never seen him before.

And yet there was something familiar about him - his brown waistcoat, the gingery-red in his multicoloured hair, the confident smirk on his face...

"I hope this isn't a bad time," he said. "My painting's just so boring, though - modern art's so much more exciting. You want a ride?"

And he offered her his hand and helped her up onto his malformed white-and-fuchsia-and-chartreuse horse.

Eglantine held on tightly, wrapping her rectangular arms around his waist, and together, they sped off into the neon sunset.

What Megan won:

$250 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
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