Contest #242 shortlist ⭐️

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Historical Fiction Suspense

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They were back. Clicking their hard nails on the wooden floor, panting as they grew closer. She assumed position covering herself with her coat and closed her eyes. She heard her mother’s voice as if in the darkened room with her. “Play dead, Shana.” 

Did she remember to lock the door? Not that it mattered, a small flimsy lock wouldn’t keep them out. She heard their footsteps approaching, knew the vicious dogs were leading those men in black boots straight to her. 

Angry German voices filtered into the silence as the doorknob jiggled, filling Shana with terror. The door flung open, and beams of light shone in.

“Play dead, Shana,” she told herself in her mind. She stopped rubbing the frayed edges of the Star of David sewn onto her coat, and allowed her limbs to fall onto the dirty floor.

“What have we got here?” The mocking voice of a soldier entered the room, the dog sniffing her out of hiding. 

“A dirty filthy Jew,” the response came quickly as more boots stomped in.

“A dirty filthy dead Jew.”

“The only good kind there is.” The soldiers laughed as if at a cocktail party rather than at the discovery of a child’s body.

“What should we do with her?”

“Leave her. She’s of no use to us now.”

Shana remained silent. Playing dead was one of the scenes she had practiced with Papa over and over. She had mastered it finally, the first few times falling into fits of giggles at Papa’s stern face until she understood it wasn’t a game.

The rattling of chains as the whimpering dogs were dragged out of the room. Then unexpectedly a harsh kick in the ribs by a pair of heavy boots into her small body.

“For good measure.” The laughter and footsteps receded into the darkness.

***

“Shall we take out the paintings?” Uncle Max asked softly.

“Can we?” Shana sat up, wincing slightly at the slow recovery of her bruised ribs. 

“I don’t see why not. Come, shayna medela.” He reached out his hand to help her up.

The little girl’s eyes filled with tears upon hearing the Yiddish phrase.  “Uncle Max, will I ever see Mama and Papa again?” 

“Pretty girl. Come here.” Max sat down on the dusty floor in the room that had been their hideout for longer than he had anticipated. “Please, God,” he said in silent prayer, “Let this war end soon.”

Leaning against the man she called uncle despite not being related, Shana let the tears flow down her sunken cheeks.

***

Walking out into the bright sunshine, Max fought the rage brought on by seeing Shana wince in pain. With a shaking arm he did the mandatory gesture calling out “Heil Hitler.” Did his voice waver? It was of utmost importance to remain diligent in his crusade. 

“Heil Hitler,” the sea of putrid hatred came back at him. He exhaled.

His thoughts went back to Shana, the one remaining child he had saved from the roundup. The Nazis had been joyous to discover the families hidden in his museum. Holding them as trophies they were led to the street and loaded onto the waiting trucks. Job well done; they slapped each other on the back as if fisherman boasting the catch of the day. So consumed with pride they hadn’t continued their search, hadn’t gone down into the basement or through the door at the end of the storage room. If they had, they would have found a little girl dressed in a tattered nightgown, barefoot, not daring the sound of a slipper stepping across the wooden floor. 

***

Waking up, she found a new painting displayed in the corner of the room.  She smiled with delight. Uncle Max had promised that when her ribs healed he would surprise her and what a surprise it was! She crept to the corner and stared in amazement at the magnificent colors on the canvas. She knew even before reading the signature that it was a piece by Menachem. 

His style mystified Shana, the clumps of paint haphazard and messy at close inspection; however, the further she leaned back the more the colors worked together creating nothing short of a masterpiece. This one in bright reds and oranges showed off the sunset through the bare winter trees, a scene Shana only saw through her imagination and memory since going into hiding. Staring at the painting she felt the music enter her body as it sang to her its special song.

Shana stood and stretched slowly, keeping her injury in mind. The painting was doing its magic, the music of its beauty reaching her silently. Reaching her thin arms up and out to the sky, they became the branches of the trees in the vibrant hues of the sun. She swayed to the rhythm evoked by the painting, reaching into the sky as her fingertips became the tiniest twigs and finally slipped one leg behind the other falling gracefully as the sun fell behind the horizon. This one she called Red Sunset by Menachem.

Practicing the steps until she silently fell to the floor one last time with fatigue. She lay in the corner, her eyes fixated on the canvas, continuing the dance in her mind’s eye, adding it to her collection. For each painting sang to her a different song and to each song she danced a different set of steps.

***

“Mama, can we have another treat?” The girls hopped about in the small bakery to the obvious annoyance of their mother. 

“Children, settle down. All this chattering is getting on my nerves. Please.” The woman roughly pulled the smaller girl to the door, the bigger girl following, looking chastised by the tone in her mother’s voice.

The shop owner turned her attention to Max. “The usual?” 

He looked at the slim selection of treats behind the glass thinking of Shana’s thin frame, her bony arms and legs. She was withering away under his care. 

Did he dare? Just one treat would put a smile on her pale face, make her day a special occasion, replenish her with some hope of better times ahead.

“Max? The usual?” Her voice was impatient.

No, he didn’t dare. The one treat would be enough to arouse suspicion. He couldn’t take the chance. Divulging that one piece of information would save the shop if questioned by the Nazis. He could picture the nasty woman boasting, “Yes, Max is hiding someone. I’m sure of it. He never eats sweets; I have known him since he was this high.” She would hold her hand up in midair, relishing the attention from the men. 

“Yes. The usual.” He put the coin down on the counter in return for the day old bread.

***

“Another latke, Shana?” Mama held the plate to Shana, her face glowing in the light of the menorah. The eighth night all candles were lit, their flames dancing to the music playing softly in the background.

Papa smiled, teasing, “Leave some room for dessert, little one. Your mama’s been baking all day.”

“I always have room for Mama’s rugelach, don’t worry, Papa.”

“Hanukah comes but once a year, darling. Let’s enjoy.” Mama scooped some apple sauce next to the latke on Shana’s plate.

She woke slowly, feeling disoriented, pressing her small fist into her stomach to quiet the grumbling. Hopefully Uncle Max would return soon with something to eat.

***

“Tonight’s the big night. Are you ready, Shana?” 

Max looked at the little girl in her oversized dress with a dirty red ribbon in her hair. He swallowed the lump in his throat willing himself not to fall down sobbing. The dress found in the garbage can near the main museum entrance was perhaps left secretly for someone else. He silently scooped it out during his nightly cleaning despite every alarm blaring in his mind. He would return it after the recital, praying he didn’t disturb a possible escape or raise suspicions. A few hours were all he needed.

“I’ve been practicing all day, Uncle Max,” she beamed.

“The paintings are in order?”

The little girl scanned the arrangement of the easels. When satisfied, she nodded.

He settled himself down on the rusty metal chair. “Well then, let the show begin!”

The storage room transformed into a magical theater as Shana danced to the songs each painting silently sang to her. In those moments there was no fear of death and destruction, there was no war. There was only the girl in the red dress dancing with joy. 

***

PRESENT DAY…

“Opening bid five hundred dollars. Do I hear five?” 

Raising her paddle discretely, she held her breath.

“Five. Do I hear six? Six. Do I hear seven?” The auctioneer orchestrated the dance between herself and the other bidders, the price escalating quickly.

“Sold. Two thousand eight hundred.” The gavel struck, closing the sale.

Shana exhaled shakily, feeling the flush creep up, her excitement overwhelming. Finally the last piece of the collection would be displayed at her children’s art museum on the Upper East Side. A bittersweet moment as she longed to share the good news with Max, fresh grief washing over her as she remembered his death years ago.

Leaning on her cane, she walked unsteadily to the painting marked “sold”.  Approaching, she studied the scene of the bare trees in the vibrant sunset. Upon close inspection, she marveled at the thick dabs of paint mysteriously arranged on the canvas just as she had remembered. The painting she had danced to all those years ago, the painting she had named “Red Sunset” completed her Menachem collection.  Menachem, she repeated to herself, the Hebrew name for comforter.

March 17, 2024 20:05

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40 comments

Story Time
05:03 Apr 02, 2024

If I had one critique for the story, it would just be that the scope of it is so vast that I feel like condensing it must have been difficult. Not that you didn't create something stellar here, just that I feel as though all of it would benefit from eventually (hopefully) one day being part of a larger piece.

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Hannah Lynn
19:25 Apr 02, 2024

Thank you for reading and I do agree with the point made. I would love to one day expand on this into a longer story!

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Philip Ebuluofor
05:32 Apr 01, 2024

Congrats.

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Hannah Lynn
01:01 Apr 02, 2024

Thanks ! 😊

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Philip Ebuluofor
04:19 Apr 03, 2024

Welcome.

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Helen A Smith
14:28 Mar 31, 2024

Congratulations Hannah 🎉

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Hannah Lynn
19:24 Mar 31, 2024

Aww thank you so much, Helen!

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John Rutherford
11:51 Mar 30, 2024

Congrats

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Hannah Lynn
19:38 Mar 30, 2024

Thanks! :)

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Ty Warmbrodt
00:29 Mar 30, 2024

Congrats on the short list!

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Hannah Lynn
01:56 Mar 30, 2024

Thank you, thank you!!

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Trudy Jas
19:44 Mar 29, 2024

Yeah! Congratulations! I knew it was good, better than good. Cheers!

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Hannah Lynn
01:56 Mar 30, 2024

And a big congrats to you as well, my friend! 😊😊

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Trudy Jas
02:10 Mar 30, 2024

Double Hurray! :-)

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Annie Hewitt
18:15 Mar 29, 2024

Powerful story! Very well told. Congratulations

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Hannah Lynn
01:54 Mar 30, 2024

Thank you so much, Annie! I appreciate that! :)

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D H
17:41 Mar 28, 2024

Great story, this is amazing! Just the title got me hooked.

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Hannah Lynn
22:56 Mar 28, 2024

Thanks so much and welcome to Reedsy! It’s a great place to be!

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S.L Neptune
15:55 Mar 27, 2024

This is an amazing story, really made the audience feel emotions tied into the story. It's an incredible idea to make this prompt a historical fiction.

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Hannah Lynn
19:56 Mar 27, 2024

Thank you so much! I’m so glad this story is well received! I appreciate the feedback.

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Paul Simpkin
08:11 Mar 27, 2024

What a beautiful story. Very satisfying ending. It certainly has the potential to be a longer story. Imaginative response to the prompt.

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Hannah Lynn
11:53 Mar 27, 2024

Thanks, Paul! I really do want to turn this into a longer story, letting the ideas roll around in my mind.

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Stevie Burges
08:09 Mar 26, 2024

thanks so much for this Hannah. You captured the stress and the cruelty perfectly. Beautifully written.

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Hannah Lynn
12:02 Mar 26, 2024

Thank you so much, Stevie! This one is dear to me as my first attempt to write about that time in history. I appreciate your feedback!

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Helen A Smith
09:04 Mar 25, 2024

What a beautiful piece. Feels like a work of art as the images of the past come floating through, especially the image of the little girl carefully practising her dancing, in spite of her pain, as Menachem’s art came to life in the room. The ending was bittersweet. A captivating story.

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Hannah Lynn
22:23 Mar 25, 2024

Thank you so much for your praise, it’s very much appreciated! 😊

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15:59 Mar 23, 2024

This is a beautifully detailed story. I like it! Thank you for sharing!

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Hannah Lynn
19:59 Mar 23, 2024

Thank you for reading, Julia! I’m glad you liked it! 😊

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Kristi Gott
06:15 Mar 23, 2024

This is deeply powerful and evocative with a feeling of authenticity and a strong impact of vivid details and a compelling story. I appreciate the depth of thought that went into this story and it leaves the reader with a sensation of pausing to think about it. Beautifully done with skillful writing. A special story.

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Hannah Lynn
19:58 Mar 23, 2024

Thank you so much, Kristi! I really appreciate your kind words! 😊

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Trudy Jas
21:27 Mar 18, 2024

Oh, Hannah! This is the one, Girl! Shalom!

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Hannah Lynn
23:59 Mar 18, 2024

Ooohhh I’m glad you liked it! 🥰 Thanks, Trudy!

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Trudy Jas
01:12 Mar 19, 2024

I did! If you have time, can you take a look at my other one for the coming week "the Lunch break" ? I find that when I do two at eh same to=ime, one tends to get overlooked. Should know better by now, Duh!

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Hannah Lynn
01:24 Mar 19, 2024

Thanks for pointing me in the direction of your other story….

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Mary Bendickson
18:24 Mar 18, 2024

So special she could round out her collection and come full circle years later. Thanks for liking my 'When Will We Ever Learn '.

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Hannah Lynn
23:58 Mar 18, 2024

Yes a full circle moment! Thanks for reading, Mary!

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Mary Bendickson
16:51 Mar 29, 2024

Congratson shortlist! Well done.🥳

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Hannah Lynn
01:53 Mar 30, 2024

Thank you so much!!!

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Alexis Araneta
05:00 Mar 18, 2024

Hannah !!! What a story you wove ! I love the vibrant use of detail, as well as how you subtly revealed that Max was not Jewish, but was hiding Shana. I smiled at the end when I found out who the painter was. Amazing work !

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Hannah Lynn
12:14 Mar 18, 2024

Thank you. Stella! I read a lot of Holocaust books so when I saw the prompt the scene of Shana hiding in a museum popped into my mind. I would love to turn this into a longer story if I could ever find the time. Lol … putting it on my ever growing list! Thanks for reading!

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