Palo Alto Weekly 35th Annual Short Story Contest
Young Adult Honorable Mention

Escape for a Moment

by Amelia Klingberg

Author Bio

Amelia Klingberg is a junior at Mountain View High School. She fell in love with reading when she read the Harry Potter books in fourth grade. She adores her friends from school who make her laugh, want to work harder, and be a better person. She has done fencing for five years and has made irreplaceable friends who let her be her weirdest self. With her love of stories, Amelia hopes to create more of her own and be able to share them with others as well as improve her writing and storytelling skills.

Inspiration

My story was inspired by my indecision about what to write. I came up with several story ideas but couldn’t pick one. I decided to find a way to incorporate all of them and wrote about my experiences during quarantine. In the pandemic, I passed the time by coming up with stories where I was in control of the world, unlike the one I lived in. So, I wrote about a girl who was able to cope with the difficulties of quarantine by escaping to a different world, and writing and imagining stories.

Meep. Meep. Meep. Eliza’s alarm rang, waking her from a fitful sleep. It was time to get up for Zoom school. Today was Monday. No wait, Tuesday. Definitely Tuesday. Eliza had stayed up late trying to finish her physics assignment, but after three a.m. the numbers and equations blurred and jumbled in her brain. After finding her error several steps back, she knew it was fruitless to try and fix it at that hour.

She decided to attend her first class in bed, unwilling to leave its warmth and comfort. She grabbed her phone and computer, logged into Zoom, and waited for class to begin.

Mr. Azalea, her math teacher, started the Zoom meeting and Eliza saw her classmates; some she vaguely knew from before the pandemic and others she only knew through Zoom. Mr. Azalea said he was going to extend the deadline for the textbook problems he had assigned last class. Eliza hated when teachers did this because she felt that too much time would allow her to procrastinate. Her teacher droned on about the previous assignment and went over the answers. Eliza had already checked her answers and had gotten them right, so she only half paid attention. She let her thoughts wander and when she got too bored, so, to pass the time, she grabbed her notebook and wrote down a story she’d thought of last night

✵✵✵

Eliza marched towards the castle. The black spires scraped the stormy, grey sky. The king had sent her to save Prince Dimitri, who had been kidnapped during the chaos of the masquerade ball. Sword drawn, she walked cautiously toward the castle’s grand doors. The silence was chilling as Eliza heard only her breath and the sound of her footsteps. The person suspected of taking the prince was a powerful enemy of the kingdom and Eliza had been told to be prepared for anything. Eliza opened the door and was shocked by what lay inside.

In the old throne room, with a thick layer of dust covering everything, stood a dragon. Humans had hunted dragons to near extinction to end the destruction the beasts had wrought. Eliza had seen one once in her life. The dragon was cruelly beautiful with purple, iridescent scales, but eyes that gleamed with hate. Those yellow eyes narrowed at Eliza and the beast charged. Its wings were enormous with a fifteen-foot wingspan. Eliza dodged the dragon’s claws and swung her sword at its legs. Though the blade barely drew blood, the beast gave an unearthly scream. The dragon breathed out fire and Eliza rolled out of the fire’s path. The fire singed her clothes but for the most part left her unscathed. The carpet however, was not as lucky. It had caught fire and the dragon’s beating wings made the flames grow. Soon the room filled with smoke and burned Eliza’s lungs. But she couldn’t stop. The dragon dove at her again and Eliza slashed its head. Again and again, the dragon attacked her with its claws, its teeth, its fire, and Eliza stabbed and dodged as the flames continued to engulf the room. She struggled to breathe but never slowed. She was trained by the best to be the best.

Eliza had to end this fight now or she wouldn’t make it to the prince before the entire castle burned down. She raced towards the stairs, the dragon close behind her. Praying this would work, Eliza spun around, leaped toward the angry beast, and brought her sword down on its head. The body collapsed and nearly crushed her.

She moved out of the way and took a shaky breath. She didn’t give herself much time to rest as the flames climbed up the walls and stairs.

"Your Highness!" Eliza screamed over the roar of the fire as she raced up the stairs.

She heard a faint yell at the end of the corridor to her right. She ran towards the voice, knocking open doors to try to find Prince Dimitri.

Finally, she found the right room. The prince was tied to a chair, still in his clothes from the masquerade ball. He looked at Eliza, visible confusion on his face. "Who on Earth are you?" He asked, though Eliza thought he wasn’t really in the position to question his savior.

Exhausted, Eliza snapped. "Your knight in shining armor."

As she stepped forward to cut his ties, a voice spoke behind her.

"I don’t think so darling."

✵✵✵

Her parents were arguing again. Eliza’s father had lost his job in early April and things had been stressed at home ever since. The arguments were never too loud or angry, but with financial problems and the fear of the virus, they became more frequent. The muffled voices outside her bedroom made her skin crawl, her breath get thin, and her heart beat a little too fast. She decided to check her grades as a distraction.

She logged onto the gradebook, nervous. She was always nervous when she checked her grades; even if she knew they would be fine. She feared they would be low, and that low grades wouldn’t reflect her true worth. The site finally loaded and her heart fell. Math had fallen to a low "B" and English had slipped from an "-A" to a "+B". She knew she hadn’t been putting as much effort into those classes the past few weeks, but hadn’t thought it would impact her grades that much.

From the other room, her parents stopped arguing. She looked up from her grades and paused as she let hope slip into her heart. But then she heard the slam of the front door. Through her bedroom window she saw her mother briskly walk to her car and drove off.

Her head spinning, Eliza decided to write and create a simpler place.

✵✵✵

Eliza peddled her bike quickly along the dirt road. The tall grass swayed gently in the evening summer breeze. The bumpy path rattled her bike as she steered towards the giant oak tree in the middle of the meadow. Eliza slowed her bike and paused to breathe. The sun had set and the stars had mustered the courage to start shining. The full moon washed the meadow and trees in a silvery blue glow. Eliza dismounted her bike, gently laid it on the ground, and walked to the oak tree. The tree stood majestically with its branches reaching for the heavens, the trunk ten feet wide, and green leaves darkened in the twilight. A swing hung from a lower branch.

No one in town knew who had set it up; it had simply always been there. The ropes were frayed and a wooden plank acted as the seat. Eliza had spent hours of her childhood playing here with other kids from town: racing in the meadows, seeing who could climb the highest on the tree, and pushing each other in the swing until they collapsed on the ground, giggling with happiness.

Eliza sat on the swing and softly kicked off the ground. A blanket of calm immediately settled over her. The breeze rustled the thousands of leaves above her as Eliza swang back and forth. The night air was warm and smelled sweet and clean. Back and forth. Off in the distance an owl asked a question. Back and forth. The crickets commenced their symphony and if she listened closely, Eliza could hear water running through the nearby creek. Back and forth.

✵✵✵

Eliza started to care less about the things happening in her life. She virtually stopped caring about her classes; only bothering to show up, but not paying attention nor submitting decent work. Her grades plummeted, but what did it matter? Quarantine was supposed to be over months ago yet here they were still. She hadn’t reached out to any of her friends in weeks, it simply seemed too bothersome and tiring. When her parents asked how her day was, she would say little more than it was fine. She wanted to scream, but didn’t. She felt like she was drowning. She stopped fighting and simply let the waves wash over her and pull her down. She stopped caring and just dove into her own world.

✵✵✵

Eliza waited behind the rock formation, dust stinging her eyes. The red-brown rocks in the distance towered in the landscape, an immense, still, and ancient beauty that left one breathless. A stagecoach was due any minute, transporting a wealthy family from St. Louis to Los Angeles. To her left, Jason sat on his stolen palomino, Butterscotch. His hat rested low on his brow and shaded his eyes. Matt sat on his black pony to the right of Eliza and fiddled with his rifle. They heard the thundering steps of horses pulling a stagecoach, and Jason nodded his head.

Matt raced forward with his rifle strapped on his back. Eliza went next urging her horse to follow Matt. Eliza had named her horse Spirit, who had beautiful splotches of brown and white on her coat. For being a stolen horse, Spirit had taken a liking to Eliza and the two became fast friends. Jason split from the group to follow the stagecoach, while Matt and Eliza rode to get in front of the coach.

It was an extravagant coach, artfully built and painted with bright colors that contrasted with the rust-colored terrain. Elegant white horses pulled it across the desert.

Spirit’s hooves pounded on the ground, dust flying up and leaving a trail behind them. Eliza’s dark hair, held back in a messy braid whipped in the wind. Nothing was more thrilling than racing a horse in the desert. Hardships and burdens fell far behind as their solution laid in front. No wanted posters, no debt, only the rhythmic movement of Spirit flying across the ground.

Matt fired a carefully aimed shot and hit the base of the stagecoach. Eliza had been extremely clear during their hours of planning that no one was to be harmed during the robbery. They didn’t need more blood on their hands.

She steered Spirit closer to the coach. The occupants were absurdly wealthy with the newest fashions and wearing so many jewels, Eliza was surprised they didn’t weigh the wearers down. She could hear them panicking from inside, but she had stopped caring about the woes of the rich long ago.

Eliza stood up on Spirit and carefully balanced. Jason shouted; the landscape whizzed by as Eliza took a deep breath.

Eliza leapt from Spirit to the coach and…


Eliza’s phone rang, pulling her from her wild west story. She looked for her phone and its screen displayed her friend Daphne’s name and her smiling picture from their day at the boardwalk two summers ago. Eliza hadn’t heard from Daphne in months; she hadn’t contacted many of her friends in the past weeks. She answered the phone in case Daphne needed something.

"Hey Eliza! It’s been a while since we’ve talked and I was wondering how everything’s going for ya." Daphne’s chipper voice said through the phone.

"Oh yeah, great to hear from you," Eliza answered. "I’m good, been busy with school." Eliza returned to her story.

… and slammed into the side, gripping the roof of the coach.

"Yeah, the workload has been pretty intense this quarter. Mr. Azalea assigns so much work that he doesn’t explain how to do it in class." Daphne said.

From inside the coach, Eliza heard a woman scream.

"I know it’s crazy," Eliza responded distractedly.

"Right? And then the tests have problems we haven’t learned how to do."

"Mm hm. Same," Eliza said quietly, focused on the scene.

Matt had taken control of steering the coach while Jason…

Daphne paused and asked gently. "Eliza, are you okay?"

Her tone made Eliza stop writing, her pencil hovering above the page. "What do you mean?"

"Well, we haven’t really heard from you in a while and you don’t really seem interested in talking."

Eliza sat back in her chair and thought for a couple of seconds.

"Eliza?" Daphne asked again.

"No," Eliza said. "I’m not okay." She felt slightly short of breath. She had barely admitted it to herself, let alone say it out loud.

"I’m sorry Eliza. Do you want to talk about it?"

So, she told Daphne all of it. How she had no motivation for school, how her parents weren’t getting along, how she was struggling in school, and the crushing loneliness she had felt the past year. At first it was hard to voice her problems, Eliza hated admitting difficulties or weakness, but Daphne listened patiently and was extremely empathetic. It turned out Daphne had been struggling with depression herself and her uncle had gotten coronavirus a couple of months ago. Fortunately, he got better, but they weren’t sure for a while.

"I’m so sorry you had to go through all that Daphne," Eliza said. She hadn’t thought about everything her friends and peers must be dealing with as well.

"Thanks, and it has gotten better by talking to people," Daphne paused, "but you know what I’m really grateful for?"

"What?"

"That we never had to take that Chemistry test last spring," Daphne snickered.

Eliza laughed. She couldn’t remember the last time she had. It felt good.

"Well, I have to finish studying for history. It was nice talking to you again, Eliza. I hope we talk again soon and please call if you ever want to talk." Daphne said.

"I will, thanks Daphne. Good luck on the test."

"You too! Bye!"

Daphne ended the call and Eliza’s room was silent once again. But she wasn’t lonely and for the first time in a while, she felt that things might be okay.