When I Was A King

Submitted into Contest #242 in response to: Write about a gallery whose paintings come alive at night.... view prompt


Mystery Fantasy Coming of Age

Donald Martin’s second grade class went on a field trip in the fall of 1993. It was a trip that’s destination was a local museum called the Relics of Old. Donald didn’t want to go. He puckered his lip and resisted the urge to stomp his foot while Mrs. Alisha was prepping them for the bus ride. He wanted to stay at school and have Mrs. Alisha carry on her reading of the book Shiloh. He wanted to get lost in captivating stories and riveting fairy tales. 

He longed for knights and dragons, hero dogs, and brave steeds.

He didn’t see what all the fuss was about when it came to dinosaurs long dead and men and women who were now nothing but bones buried under mountains of rubble and dirt. 

Where was the excitement in those things?

“Donald?” Mrs. Alisha asked him on the bus ride to the museum. “Are you okay? Honey, you look so sad!”

“Not sad… bored.” Donald told her, scrunching his face in bitterness.

Doesn’t she understand? He thought, his eyes filling up with tears of disappointment. It’s Friday, and today we would have finished the book! Instead, we’re missing our reading for this dumb old field trip! Ugh. 

“Don’t wanna go.” He complained, folding his arms and putting his chin to his chest. Mrs. Alisha cocked her head. Her golden hair flowed down to her shoulders. It shimmered like it was sprinkled with pixie dust.

“No?” She inquired gently. 

“No.” Donald repeated in a grumble.

“Why ever not?” She patted his arm. Her hands were as soft as silk. Donald sighed.

“Because it’s gonna be so,” he drew the word out, emphasizing the tragedy that was to come. “Boring.” 

Mrs. Alisha smiled. Behind her, the two boys in the row across from Donald were drawing messy art into the morning condensation on the bus window. 

“Well.” Mrs. Alisha’s eyes sparkled. “You never know, Donny. This trip might surprise you.”

Donald gazed at her, mesmerized. The teacher winked. A magical, joyful gesture that lit her body with a soft glow.

The hand-drawn pictures in the glass, little stick men and women, gave Donald a hearty wave.

The other boys had already lost interest in the sloppy creations they had made and were committed to a new form of passing the time, a thumb war. But Donald couldn’t look away as the stick figures danced, waving, hopping, and shaking their hips from side to side. 

“Woah.” He breathed, his voice cracking in awe. He gaped at Mrs. Alisha. She was grinning. “How… How did you do that?”

She held a delicate finger to her lips. 

“Shh, it’s a secret.” She explained to him. “I didn’t do anything. Except give you a very special gift, because you are a very special boy.” She tweaked his nose. “That’s what my teacher told me when she gifted me the magic to see what I can see. And now, I’ve given it to you.”

“To see them dance?” Donald laughed, bubbling with happiness. His favorite teacher messed his hair.

“To see stories.” She whispered to him. The stick figures played leapfrog. They laughed and frolicked like happy children. “To see them, instead of just hearing them.” 

“Only me?” Donald asked, eyes wide. Mrs. Alisha nodded somberly.

“Only you. Until, one day, you choose to share this gift with someone else. Someone whose heart is as open and imagination as boundless as yours."

Donald felt a mix of thrill and responsibility wash over him. He peeked around carefully, making sure no eyes were looking his way. He was a man with a great secret now, and it both excited and terrified him. 

“I can’t tell anyone?” He turned his attention back to Mrs. Alisha. She shook her head.

“To tell is to gift.” She cautioned him. “And you only have this gift to give once, sweetheart.”


Donald couldn’t overcome his awe of his newfound ability. Everywhere he turned, he saw magic. Getting off the bus at the museum, he gaped at the statue of a saber-tooth tiger that guarded over the wide, flat, marble steps leading up to the building. The feline flicked an ear and narrowed his eyes. Donald passed him wearily as he trumped up the stairs. The tiger turned his head to watch him. His frown of thoughtfulness faded as he smiled a toothy grin and let out a purr of delight. 

Donald stopped and reversed a few steps in order to pat the tiger’s hard, cold head. 

“You are so weird!” One of his classmates, July Whip, sniffed as she strutted past him. Other kids laughed and pointed at him. 

Donald didn’t care.

Mrs. Alisha had said he was special, not them.

Inside the building, which was filled to the brim with the soft, welcoming aroma of books written long before the building they now resided in was any more than a puddle of unused clay and ginger-scented cleaner, Donald ignored his classmates, who Mrs. Alisha and her parent helpers were struggling to reign in as they eagerly raced from exhibit to exhibit, yowling and bounding about like sugar-high cats. 

Donald found the art exhibit, which was a lengthy corridor located toward the back of the building. It was deserted. People were too busy marveling over dinosaur bones and historic relics to spend time googling over paintings and portraits. 

Donald sat on a bench against the wall and leaned his head back. 

There was a gentle, golden glow around him that seemed to light up the whole exhibit like a fierce flame. 

The people and animals in the art twitched, like they’d been electrocuted. They came to life.

Mermen wielded golden tridents over their heads. Cowboys spurred gallant steeds into action, twirling their lassos while panicked cows galloped away from them. 

Lions stalked through tall, swaying, prairie grass. Dragons circled castles, gushing out fire from gaping jaws. 

Noah’s Ark fought through a vicious storm, lightning flashing over its great sails. The Lord spoke the earth into existence, and there was a flash of light. Donald was frozen in awe as he watched—truly watched—nothing turned into everything that was his world. 

Red splotches of paint on a white background swam around like eager fish. Black lines slithered over their canvas like serpents.

Donald felt as though he were dreaming. He was so lost in the magic around him—the displays of stories and history playing out before his very eyes—that he didn’t hear his teachers gathering up everyone to get on the bus.

They blew whistles and shouted at wandering students. The rapid, excited chatter that had kept the museum in a constant state of chaos for the past few hours faded away. 

Donald, the quiet bookworm of his class, went unnoticed as the students were herded out the door.

But he didn’t know or care that he'd been left behind. 

Donald no longer cared much for his dull, lifeless world at all. The magic one he saw within the paintings and portraits was much more enthralling. 

Donald got up from the bench as all the lights went out with a snapping sound.

All the lights in the ceiling of the building...

Not the lights in the portraits... lights that were only Donald’s to behold.

A night where the artwork was as living and bright as a golden stallion. 

Donald giggled to himself. He walked past a village of burning torches and let his hand crease the frame of King Arthur’s portrait. The king smiled at him. He took off his crown and held it out for Donald to admire. It sparkled and gleamed like life itself. Violet jewels decorated its three points. Donald reached out a hand, wishing he could touch the gold relic.

“It’s beautiful.” He whispered, his eyes wide with amazement. King Arthur looked pleased. He placed the crown back on his head. He gave Donald a slight bow. 

Donald returned the gesture. He felt special. He felt like a king himself. 

Donald pranced like a buck in spring from one end of the hall to the other, then back again. He visited with angels and made small talk with dinosaurs. He imagined that he was sword fighting with knights, and he pretended he was the owner of a pack of hunting dogs all piled into one painting. 

He named each one and bounced up and down with glee when they chased a raccoon up a tree. They wagged their tails at him like he was truly their master. 

Donald didn’t grow sleepy, even as the night stretched on. At one point, he did peer out into the hall and became aware that he was alone. His classmates and teachers were long gone, and the employees of the museum had closed up without thinking to check the art exhibit. 

Donald, as he was only a second grader, did briefly chew his lip and consider the benefits of panicking. Then, he simply let his shoulders droop and relaxed.

What’s the point of getting all upset? He mused. They’ll come back for me. At the hotel tonight, someone will notice I’m gone. Or tomorrow morning, someone will find me. Donald smiled. In the meantime, I’m far from alone. 

With that in mind, he slipped back into the art exhibit and continued a chess match he’d started with Han Xin. 

The general was whipping him big time. But he didn’t mind. 

Donald finally had friends. Friends that were made of the magic and legends that he loved so dearly. 

He finished his chess game with Han Xin. He played a riveting game of shadow with Abraham Lincoln. He hunted with wolves and swung from the trees with apes.

Hours and hours passed, until the moment when thin light began to sneak through the windows outside the art exhibit and snake across the floor so that Donald could see its flickering golden tongue. 

By that time, Donald was curled up on the bench. His eyes were half closed in bliss, and he was simply watching the array of wonder spread out across the wall, history and stories taking place right before his very eyes, filling his heart with a sense of peace and belonging he’d never before experienced. 

A door squeaked open somewhere. 

Shoes clip-clopped their way across the museum's smooth floor. 

Donald didn’t look up as a pair of jean-clad legs came to stand before him. His eyes only flickered to the person’s face when she laughed softly.

“I thought I’d find you here.” Mrs. Alisha smiled, her eyes brimming with understanding. “The others thought we’d lost you, but I knew where you were. Where you longed to be.”

“Find him?” An anxious voice called from behind her. Donald peeked past his teacher. It was an employee, wringing his hands wearily and letting his key ring twirl around his finger. 

“Yes. Thank you for the assistance.” Mrs. Alisha told him. She dropped down to kneel before Donald. “So?” She implored. “What was it like, little one? To see a night of living art?”

Donald’s eyes slipped back and forth. His mind raced. His mouth opened and closed as he tried to grasp the right words to explain all that he’d experienced that wonderful night.

Then, he just grinned.

“I was a king.” He whispered, his eyes tearing up with joy. 


Bailey Wolfly’s second grade class went on a field trip in the fall of 2012. She didn’t want to go. In fact, she was downright mad that she was missing out on hearing the end of the story, Because of Mr Terupt, that her teacher, Mr. Donald Martin was reading to her class. 

Why today? She wondered, slouching in her seat. I don’t want to see this stupid museum! If I want to see pictures and read about old people, I can do that on mommy and daddy’s computer! 

“Bailey? You okay, kiddo?”

Bailey looked out into the aisle. Mr. Martin stood there. He was so tall, Bailey had to stretch her head back to see his face. 

“No.” She complained, frowning. “Mr. Martin! This is so unfair. We were supposed to finish our book today.” Bailey’s fingers curled into her palm in frustration. “Why did we have to go on this trip today of all the days?”

Crouching down to level with Bailey, Mr. Martin’s eyes twinkled with a mischief she couldn’t quite catch. “Yeah, the timing’s a bit of a bummer, huh? Funny how things line up sometimes…” His voice trailed off, lost in thought before snapping back to the present.

“I don’t want to go.” Bailey breathed, blinking tears of bitterness from her eyes. Mr. Martin rested a hand on her shoulder.

“Well,” he said, a note of excitement in his voice. “This trip might just be more exciting than you could ever imagine, kid.” He winked, grinning. “It may even be downright magical.” 

March 23, 2024 03:15

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Darvico Ulmeli
22:46 Mar 23, 2024

What a good idea. To see the stories. And I could see this story. Well done.


C.N. Jung
15:31 Apr 06, 2024

Thank you so much! I am grateful for your time in reading my story and providing feedback. 😁


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Mary Bendickson
21:44 Mar 23, 2024

Exciting gift. Thanks for liking my 'When Will We Ever Learn '. And Because He Lives.


C.N. Jung
15:33 Apr 06, 2024

Thank you for checking out my story, Mary! 😄


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David Sweet
19:29 Mar 26, 2024

What a fun story and a fantastic gift. I would have wanted that gift as a child! Thanks for continuing to contribute great content to Reedsy.


C.N. Jung
15:47 Apr 06, 2024

Thanks, David! I feel the same way. It would have been amazing to bring stories to life using more than just my imagination. But then again, bringing stories to life is exactly what imagination does do. And thanks again, I appreciate that! 😄


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