Alvin Yap had no trouble at all coming
up with a story to submit to the Palo Alto Weekly's Short Story Contest.
"I've always been interested in time travel," the 10-year-old began, "and
when I was reading a history book, Columbus came to mind. What would it
be like to go back to that time?"
In Alvin's story, "The Real Columbus," a mystified modern seaman finds
himself under bombardment by Christopher Columbus's 16th-century wooden
Alvin likes to do the things he excels at, and the list is long. "I really
like the computer--I'm using it almost 24 hours a day," Alvin said. "All
the stories I write are about technology. Though I don't like the outdoors
that much, I love baseball and skiing. And I like math and reading a lot."
Alvin said he'll devour any book he can get his hands on, especially one
by Michael Crichton, but he has a preferred genre.
"Science fiction's my favorite," Alvin said, "because it's about something
that hasn't been done yet. Sometimes an idea comes to me, and my teacher
is very surprised!"
Alvin said teachers have always liked and encouraged his writing. "I wrote
poetry before, but it didn't end up sounding very well," Alvin said. "I
do the stories because it's an imagination thing."
But Alvin maps out his imagination. "I like to start in the middle of
a situation. For example, in 'The Real Columbus,' I started with a modern
sailor peering through binoculars and only explain later what he's seeing,"
Alvin lives in Portola Valley and attends Corte Madera School. In addition
to reading, he enjoys playing the violin and participating in several
clubs, including a chess club. He explained how his chess inspires his
writing approach: "With chess, you don't talk a lot. It's about thinking
The Real Columbus
by Alvin Yap
As far as he could see, there was nothing but sea. After seven days of
a mission in Spain, Capt. Alphonse Nelson III, of the battleship USS Pride,
had finally been granted a request to return to Florida. Hoping he could
see more with his binoculars, he ordered Lt. Cmdr. Clyde O'Riley to bring
them to the deck. When the binoculars arrived, he was just about to thank
O' Riley when he noticed that O'Riley wasn't even there. It was Seaman
Drian Francisco. His father and mother emigrated from Spain. The captain
was not particularly fond of Francisco. Actually, he was not fond of him
at all. He did not want to see him. All the better, Nelson thought. "Ah,
Francisco. I wanted to talk to you," Nelson said as he peered through
his binoculars. "I was just wondering ...," the young Captain continued
adjusting, "why. ..."
About 20 miles away, he saw a giant wave that looked at least 100 yards
high and 600 yards thick. He lowered his binoculars as if in awe. All
of a sudden he started to panic. "Tsunami! Straight ahead!" he yelled
sprinting toward the cockpit of the USS Pride.
He ran into Cmdr. Marc Lawrence, knocking over his cup of coffee. Nelson
was usually squirmiest of all the officers about getting their dress uniform
dirty. Yet now, he didn't even notice. "Tsunami!" Nelson cried again.
The next minute, he felt the pilot grasping his shoulders and shaking
him. "Captain, are you all right? We aren't picking up a tsunami on our
radar. Are you sure you saw one?"
"Oh it's there all right." He started to panic again. "We got to get the
hell outta here."
The pilot responded calmly. "Calm dow-," the pilot gaped as he caught
sight of the wave. "S---."
He dashed to the cockpit, alarming crew members along the way. In a matter
of seconds, the deck turned into turmoil. Everyone wanted to get into
the cabin off the open deck. Nelson could hear Marc contacting the USS
Earthfall. "We are on a collision course with a tsunami off the coast
of the Bahamas. Request confirmation."
"Negative. We have no reading of a wave within 100 km of the Bahamas."
Marc wouldn't give up. "Are you sure? It could be just--"
A burst of static ended the communication. Marc walked up to Nelson. "The
wave is blocking our communication. We don't have a prayer."
By now, the deck was cleared, except Francisco, Nelson, and Lawrence.
The wave had now made a dome over the ship. "What the hell is happening?"
No one replied. The water beneath them caved down till the deck was even
with the normal surface. They could see under the surface, yet they weren't
wet. The water turned yellow, then black, then blue, until all the colors
were embedded onto the water, which was now black. The water whirled around
and around until all the colors were blurred. The members of the crew
on deck got a major headache. Everyone saw everything fading.
When they came to, they were rocking peacefully on the sea.
"To the Captain's quarters," the Captain said, queasily hobbling away.
"Now, Now, Now!"
Weakly, they all hobbled after their captain.
"I want to know what happened out there," yelled Nelson. He had just had
a hot bath and was totally ticked.
Marc Lawrence replied. "I don't know, sir. We have no record of a wave.
Our engine has suffered a full breakdown. Also, we aren't picking up any
radio signals of any--"
"Keep trying. Now, scram!"
An hour later, he heard pounding on the steps to his quarters. Pierce
"There are three ships, heading toward the continent, sir."
Nelson rushed to the deck, skipping steps along the way. When he reached
the deck, O'Riley had his binoculars there. He yanked them out of O'Riley's
hands and saw three old ships with large sails blotted out the sun. "It's
got to be a disguise," he said. "They don't think anyone will attack antique
ships. There must be metal under that wood." He turned toward Lawrence.
"Ready the lightest torpedo you can find and fire whenever you're ready."
Lawrence bounded off with Pierce on his tail. A few minutes later, a torpedo
raced across the distance between the ships. The largest ship exploded
in pieces. Pierce ran back on deck. "We're being fired at by the other
ships." He had the strangest look on his face.
"Out with it, boy," Nelson practically yelled.
"Well," Pierce replied, "they're firing ... they're firing cannonballs,
Surely enough, cannonballs rolled off the side of the ship. "Return fire,"
Pierce raced off the deck. Another torpedo raced across the water. They
easily missed the next target, but they didn't care. In seconds, they
saw survivors swimming for their lives. They were the roughest looking
men they ever saw. Nelson rubbed his hands together. "Let's get ourselves
some prisoners," he said with relish.
At about 9 p.m., Nelson decided to read a book. He closed his eyes and
randomly pulled a book out. By a random stroke of luck, he pulled out
a history book called "European Explorers." Flipping to page 1, he saw
the chapter name, "Christopher Columbus." A portrait of Columbus followed
these words. The look was familiar to him. He was positive he saw someone
that looked like that on the ship. "I'm imagining things."
Nelson stood on the deck with the wind blowing at his dress uniform.
Why was he standing there? He didn't know. Four seamen marched onto the
deck with the prisoners with O'Riley and Lawrence right behind them. O'Riley
screamed at the prisoners. His words were buried by the wind. Still, the
prisoners got the message. They dived at Nelson. The captain yanked out
his pistol and fired. After those shots, they held back. Only one still
advanced. Nelson felt a chill. It was the face in the book--Columbus's
face. Columbus yanked a knife out and stabbed deep before Nelson could
fire. He knew he was going to die but wasn't sure that he would make it
to heaven. ...
Nelson shot up from his bed. He had to identify the man. Stealing a
look at his clock, he saw that it was already 5:59, one minute till his
alarm clock went off. He hurriedly dressed. Nelson didn't comb his hair
or put on his dress coat. Not a minute was spent on in front of the mirror
as usual. As he headed up the stairs, his alarm buzzed. Nelson paid no
Nelson set quite a show at the row call. When Lawrence called Nelson,
he screamed, "Hurry up you bastard."
Marc continued. "Officers of the USS Pride. Lt. Cmdr. O'Riley."
"Present." "Lt. Presson."
"Present." "Lt. King."
The rest of the row call went smoothly until Francisco.
Unfortunately, Nelson got impatient. "Screw him! Get to the daily updates.
Something like I'm going to get demoted for being late for my appointment
with the fleet admiral!"
"Sir," Marc replied, "we have just. ..."
"You have about 80 more crew members to go," Nelson interrupted.
"Yes, sir. Daily update of the USS Pride, commanded by Capt. Alphonse
Nelson III. Unknown date on the basis of our accident. Our engine is on
a full cut. ... " "Skip it Marc, let's get to the announcements," the
Captain interrupted again.
"Sir," Lawrence replied, "it is not wise to skip all our daily drills."
"Last time I looked I was captain," Nelson puffed between his teeth. "And
I want you to get out the prisoners. NOW!"
Lawrence could feel Nelson's wrath. "Yes sir. Right away, sir. Preston,
Kruth--follow me. Seamen recruits A-E, come along."
He watched them march off the deck. Fifteen minutes later, they marched
back up with the prisoners from the ships they blew up. It was easy to
distinguish the man from Nelson's. Of all the ragged clothing that was
worn, one man wore clothes as decorative as a king's clothing compared
to the others'. Nelson sprang at him, yanked his coat and pulled him toward
the officers' stand. "Captain," Roxan growled, "Remember your manners.
"I don't care about any damn manners! This guy's name is Christopher Columbus."
No one talked for a while. Then a dull realization came to them. Of course
they didn't realize that the man was Columbus. They just realized Columbus
was gibbering in Spanish and that they were going to find someone to interview
Sweat rolled down his face. Francisco was having a Spanish conference
with Columbus to figure out what he was doing. Everyone was at his roll-call
post, waiting nervously for Francisco. Nelson was the most nervous one.
When a shaking Francisco hobbled out of the cabin, Nelson rushed up to
him. "What happened?" he demanded. "Well, Captain, he spoke a different
variation of Spanish than I do and--"
"Just tell me what you understood."
"This Spanish man's," Francisco said, "name is unintelligible. He came
from Spain. This guy says Queen Isabella sent him. Which means, sir, that,
well, he might be Columbus. Because he also says his ships were supposed
to go around the world to India to prove the world was round.
Nelson's jaw dropped. "We changed history. We--get this ship to the Bahamas.
Fix the engine or use paddles if you have to. Just get there." He spun
towards Drian. "Tell him to cover this up. Go!"
Nelson sat up abruptly in bed. It was dark. He grabbed his flashlight
and stole a glance at his clock. 1:09. When he heard footsteps coming
to his room, he grabbed his semiautomatic pistol. He heard Lt. Roxan pound
on his door. "Open up! Come on, hurry up."
Nelson sprang from his bed, changed in about 10 seconds just in time to
hear distant gibbering. He opened the door and Roxan jumped in and slammed
the door. The gibbering was now right outside his door. Nelson calmly
walked over to his desk and picked up his communication radio and switched
the frequency to Franny's. He knew Drian would be awake since he was part
of the relief crew and would be fixing the engine. "Hey, Dri Franny, we
have some people here sayin' junk in Spanish. Get over here and translate
for us. Nelson out."
About five minutes later, they heard Drian.
Amazingly enough, the shouting stopped. He heard brisk footsteps and heard
Francisco knock on his door. Nelson strode up to the door. Francisco walked
in with a normal look. "They just want to go home. They're scared."
Francisco's calmness made Nelson rage. "Who," he steamed, "let them out
in the first place?"
"No one, sir. They were never returned to the cell."
Nelson threw his hand into the air. "What the hell is wrong with this
9/23/2000 We are about an hour away from Florida now. Our crew has
been to the Bahamas, allowed Columbus to claim the land and dropped him
off at Spain. He was bribed to lie. The damage was fixed. After running
through another wave, we reappeared on the Pacific Ocean. My science officer
Jake Doplicateson predicts that we must have traveled to 1492, since we
lacked satellite. Our last preparations are being made.--Capt. Alphonse
Along the sky, Nelson saw the horizon. Traveling through the coming
darkness, the crew of the USS Pride was soon to be forever separated.
He was in deep trouble for being late. Days ago, he would have fussed
about it. Now ... he didn't know. Nelson thought about his mission in
saving the history of America and he smiled. He could almost see his report.
"The Real Columbus" is an ambitious, finely crafted adventure. This story
of time travel is suspenseful, with realistic dialogue and good detail Using
the tsunami as the bookends of this story is especially creative. This story
could be improved by clarifying sequences. The writer moves in and out of