Palo Alto Weekly 25th Annual Short Story
MAGGIE FINN'S INCREDIBLE ADVENTURE
“Maggie! Margaret!” Barbara, my stepmother’s crabby voice drifted upstairs. I wanted to snap back, “That’s my name, don’t wear it out!” But, thinking about the consequences, I pushed away the temptation.
“Coming!” I yelled. I trudged down the stairs to our Victorian styled kitchen. “Pick up your feet, girl.” I turned to face Barbara. Her shriveled up face, her extremely long nose, and her sunflower seed sized eyes all stared back at me. “I can walk however I like, and you aren’t my mother so you can’t tell me what to do.” I retorted. Barbara gave me her best evil eye. I showed her my meanest glare. It was another full minute until anyone said anything.
“Go-tell-Mr.-Horrence-what-you-just-did!” Barbara spat the sentence out as if it was one word. A feeling of doom filled me. Mr. Horrence was our next-door neighbor, and evidently, my stepmother’s boyfriend. He was like the principal at a school; whenever the teacher couldn’t handle a child, she sent them to the principal, or, in my case, Mr. Horrence. His house always smelt like cheese and wine, which might actually smell good to adult noses, but smelt like poison to mine.
“Well, get!” barked Barbara. The old lady pushed me out the door and slammed it shut behind me. I wanted to scream! I dragged my feet down the street, half of me wanting to go back home, the other half telling me to get the whole thing over with. Wondering if I would ever see the light of day again, I knocked on the door of Mr. Horrence’s house.
“It’s Maggie, sir!” I hollered.
“COME IN!”, was the rasping reply. Shaking with fear, I nudged the heavy door open. “Mr. Horrence,” I started “Ms. Barbara Everest sent me here. She wants me to tell you that I sassed her.”
“Sit down.” I knew the drill; I sat down in a hard chair around an ugly-looking coffee table squatting in the center of the sitting area. Mr. Horrence entered the room. His figure was extremely intimidating. With his puffy eyes as big as fifty-cent pieces, he studied me. “Pull up your socks.” I had no choice but to do as I was told. “Now what was this about sassing?” Mr. Horrence’s eye’s bulged at me.
“WHAT?!” I cringed. “SHE IS YOUR MOTHER NOW, AND SHE CAN TELL YOU WHAT TO DO! LISTEN TO HER, SHUT UP AND RESPECT YOUR ELDERS! NOW GIT OUT OF MY HOUSE! I DON’T WANT ANY SPOILED LITTLE BRATS SITTING IN MY CHAIR! GIT, C’MON, GIT OUT!”” I jumped up, raced across the room, dashed out the door and up the street.
Hours later, I sat in my room, not doing anything in particular. In the kitchen, Barbara could be heard clanging pots together, probably making that dog food she had named “spinach and mushroom casserole.” Oh, my life was such a MESS! But I didn’t cry. No one could make me, Maggie Finn cry. I was a girl of action, I fixed problems, and I didn’t just lie there sobbing. I told myself that over and over again, until I fully regained my self-confidence. What could I do about my situation?
My book I had snuck from Barbara’s study fell off my shelf. Eleanor Runs Away From Home: The Epic Tale. Inspiration hit me like a bolt of lightning. What if, I thought, I made a great escape in the middle of the night, and just like Eleanor, ran away? The idea was tremendous; I wanted to get started right away. I ran down the hall to the linen closet and snatched a pillow case to pack my items inside.
Later, I laid out all the things I was going to bring on my bed.
The group consisted of:
I stuffed the last thing into the bag and sighed. My life was going to be different. I was leaving tonight. I set my alarm clock for 12:00 midnight. “Margaret!”Oh, I hate it when people call me that! “Dinner!”
The rest of evening was difficult to stand. It was like the last few minutes before a birthday party, waiting for the guests to come. Finally, I finished washing the dishes and went up to my room to “get some sleep.” Here came the flaw in my plan: Barbara started watching television. When my stepmother starts that, she’s usually up the whole night. I decided to go to bed and carry out my plan tomorrow night.
“BEEP! BEEP! BEEEEEEEEEEE-EE-EE-EP!” my alarm clock obnoxiously woke me. Rats! I had forgotten to turn the alarm off. I listened for the sounds of Barbara’s television. Strangely, the noises weren’t there. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, I can escape tonight. Just the thought made my stomach lurch. I picked up my pillow case sack and crept across the room, my bare feet patting softly on my bedroom’s carpeted floor.
Once I was downstairs, I took a leap towards the front door. Barbara’s voice pierced the dark room, startling me. “Who’s there?” I turned around faster than you could say “runaway child.” There was my stepmother, sitting alone in the dark, knitting something that looked like it may have been a hat for a baby but it was really too lumpy to tell for certain. Without thinking, I swung open the door and tumbled out into the darkness. I could hear Barbara screaming “HELP! THIEF!” Something inside of me snapped in two.
I leapt to my feet and ran as fast as I could. I didn’t know where I was going, but I could sense I was somewhere outside of town. Finally, I could run no more. I rummaged around in my sack and found the box of matches. Lighting one of them, I realized that I was standing in front of a swing set, with a tube slide next to it. In fear of burning myself, I threw the match to the ground and stamped on it. How about sleeping in the slide? I bet it’s warm in there, I thought to myself. Half asleep now, I dragged myself up the ladder to the slide where I collapsed in an exhausted heap.
“Who is she?”
“I haven’t seen her face before, that’s for sure!”
“And why’s she sleeping on our playground?”
“Should I tell Mr. F?”
“No way! Are you nuts, Phil Benjamin? Million School could use some secrets. Everything is so routine around here.”
I heard those last words and the truth dawned on me. I had been mistaken! I had slept in! I wasn’t lying in the tube slide of a neighborhood park; this was a playground at a school. Thinking quickly, I decided the best thing to do would be to scare the kids off, then run as far away as I could away.
I formed some saliva under my tongue, then let it dribble out on my face so that I looked like someone with rabies, foaming at the mouth. “Garr…..” I moaned. I sat bolt upright and screamed, whipping my arms around. “BLAAAAAAAAAH!” All of the kids gathered around me remained calm. One said, “Do you really think we’re that gullible?” They weren’t buying it.
“Fine,” I said, “You win. What are you going to do with me?”
One girl with curly red hair and a face that had gone a little bit crazy in the freckle department spoke up. “Who are you?” Thinking that it wouldn’t be that smart to tell them the truth on that question, I spoke the first name that came to mind. That was a mistake. “Mr. Horrence! I mean Sally, Sally Coots” I said.
“You’re strange,” a teenage boy told me, “And we don’t take kindly to anything funny here in Million. I’m going to tell Mr. F.” With that, the teenager boy was gone.
“That’s Phil Benjamin” The freckled girl explained to me apologetically, “He’s a teacher’s pet if I ever saw one. By the way, I’m Jemima.”
“Jemima,” I looked the girl right in the eyes, “I want you to create a diversion. Distract Mr. F, or whoever he is. I’m going to have to skedaddle!”
“Got it.” The Jemima raced off.
“The rest of you,” I addressed the crowd, “Help Jemima. Do everything she tells you to do.”
I slid down the slide, yelling my goodbyes as I got closer and closer to the ground. Sadly, I was too late to escape.
“Stop! Stop! Margaret Finn!” I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around slowly. How did they know my name? There was Mr. F., standing there in the morning sun, his tie fluttering in the breeze. His facial features were dramatically familiar. Then, standing there with my mouth hanging open, I realized why I remembered his face so well. Mr. F. was my father. F stood for Finn. Paul Finn.
Paul Finn was the same father who had told me he was going to a ranch in Wisconsin for a week then never came back. The same father who had never picked up the phone when I called the ranch. He had lied to me! My father was probably teaching in Million the whole time. Believe me, I wasn’t hugging him and yelling “Daddy!” I was furious.
“Margaret,” he said, “I want to talk to you in my office. Now.” I wouldn’t have gone, but Paul grabbed my hand and dragged me into a small classroom. “What,” He said, “are you doing here? How did you find me?” I murmured a response, but Paul kept asking me to speak up. I decided to give up answering him. “Margaret,” he told me, “We can live together and forget it all. You’ll go to school, I’ll keep on being the principal, and we’ll be a family.”
A tsunami of rage swept over me. Forget it all? “Barbara Everest is a MEAN, MEAN PERSON!” I screeched, “Don’t you REALIZE that you wrecked twelve years of my life? I COULD HAVE A NORMAL FAMILY LIKE JEMIMA, WITH PETS AND GOOD HOME COOKED MEALS! I COULD HAVE A FATHER WHO LOVED ME!” I was practically in hysterics. Grabbing a paperweight lying on the desk nearest to me, I threw objects at the walls, destroying the classroom, screaming insults at my father, who was staring blankly at me, taken aback.
“Margaret,” Paul touched my shoulder gently. I stopped trashing the desks and looked up. A tear rolled down my cheek. “Do you know what a hurricane is? One of them blew the plane to Wisconsin off course. I was one of ten survivors.”
“Why didn’t you come back?” I asked.
“I would have, but it is a long, complicated, story.”
“Now,” he looked me right in the eyes “I’ll ask again. Do you want to start over and forget about it all? Be a family?”
“Yes, I would.” I whispered. We both smiled.
A week later, I was walking with my father in the park, making the rules and agreements for our future. “So far we have um,” he said scanning the list, “two dollar allowance, no spinach casserole/dog food, a family pet and a smaller personal pet, only two chores limit, exciting afterschool activities, no yelling, three skip school today coupons, four leave dad alone coupons um, 60 dollar allowance?! Maggie, you added that, didn’t you?” We signed the pact. I could tell my life was going to be much better. That is how I went from living with an evil old lady with a bedroom in the attic to living with a kind man named Paul, a dog called Bentley, and a guinea pig named Rufus.
"A touching story with a strong, self-confident heroine and energetic language."
Short story writers wanted!
The 31st Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 13, 2017. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.