Mona Lisa's Secret
Jana, Age 11, Zimbabwe
The carnival stood there, silent as ever, waiting for its next victim. For a century it had been deserted, and now the metal on the merry-go-rounds and flagpoles had rusted to a dark reddish-brown. Rumours had spread, but each time the subject came up an eerie tension would grow.

Caitlin didn't care about the carnival like the older villagers did. She was an orphan, living with her grandmother in a small cottage near the sea. She had nowhere else to go, and the simplicity of that protected her from being affected by the carnival's menacing aura. She reached for her pocket and pulled out a small crystal ball, twirling it around in her fingers. This was the only thing that made it out of the fire in which her parents had died.

She suddenly flicked the ball, sending it flying up and rolling farther away. Caitlin ran after it, but it was long gone inside the carnival grounds. The ball was the only connection to her parents and she wouldn’t lose it, so she stepped inside.

At once, Caitlin felt a surge of coldness. She kept going as the old floorboards creaked beneath her feet, seeming magnified in contrast to the silence. At last she saw a glint of light, right in the darkest corner. She ran towards the crystal ball. The old floorboards couldn't hold her up and with a sound that echoed across the grounds, they finally cracked.

The fall seemed endless but was broken at last by thick cement up on which Caitlin landed. She found herself surrounded by antique tables and chairs, objects from a world long forgotten, and a painting, the only one inside. The ornate golden frame was dusty, but the painting itself remained in perfect condition. She reached out to take it, to see it closely…"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Caitlin jumped with fright. The sweet, melodic voice had come from nowhere, yet it seemed so real.

"Who are you?" she called.

The voice responded, "Look more closely at the painting."

"Mona Lisa."

"Ah, yes, you've figured out who I am. Now let's figure out what you, my dear, are doing here." Caitlin pondered for a while. At last, she spoke.

"I just happened to come across this chamber. I fell.” Caitlin pointed at the pile of dust and floorboards.

"Aren't you supposed to be a painting? Are you a ghost that came to live here?" For what could have been a long time or a few seconds, Mona Lisa didn't respond.

"I am not a ghost, and I did not come to live here of my own free will. I was born here, from the painting." She paused for a while, and then continued. "This once used to be a beautiful place, filled with flowers and sunshine, magnificent buildings, happiness and laughter." Caitlin almost choked at the thought of her depressing, old village having one of those things, much less all of them. "And there lived a man called Leonardo da Vinci, a magnificent painter; the very man who painted me." A mist seemed to form as Mona Lisa spoke that smelled of honey, roses and lavender. "I lived with him all my life, yet I was forced to hide when invaders came in."

"People actually came here?" Caitlin interrupted.

"Oh, yes. They took over, made people work for them. One day, they found Leonardo and me. They wanted to take us far away. Leonardo came to a decision. He would go, yet I would stay here, alone. He told me to keep our home safe, to hide from those who wanted me. So he painted another replica of me, an inanimate replica with a curse. All who would touch it would be transformed into half a soul, immortal yet suffering. The invaders touched it themselves, and immediately blended in with the shadows. They were determined to haunt those who had done this to them, and because they had been cursed on this very carnival, they haunted it forever," the voice of Mona Lisa whispered.

"If you're really a person, could you maybe appear as one?"

Caitlin didn't expect Mona Lisa to transform into her true self, but Mona Lisa stood right before her eyes. She was now in true colour: her skin was pale white, as if she had never seen the sun; her eyes were darkest brown; her hair was flowing and long, as dark as her eyes; she wore a long black dress that trailed away behind her, sweeping the floor as she walked. Yet her expression was not a frightening one. In fact, it was warm and welcoming, making Caitlin feel as if she had known her forever, almost like having a real mother.

"Let me properly introduce myself now that we are face-to-face. I am Mona Lisa.”

"I'm Caitlin."

Mona looked at her, as if expecting more. "Surely you must have a last name?" she asked.

"I never knew my last name. My parents died before I could meet them." Caitlin looked solemn at the thought. Mona Lisa walked over to her.

"Well, have you ever tried exploring your past?"

"There's nothing much to explore, really," Caitlin admitted. "The fire burned everything." Mona Lisa shook her head.

"I meant here, my dear. There is so much to explore in here, so much to find that has been lost."

Mona spoke as if there were treasures in the chamber, making what Caitlin saw as dusty old ruins seem like majestic treasures waiting to be uncovered. "Come with me." Mona Lisa led the way, seeming to float above the floor as she swept along the chamber. Caitlin had to jog to keep up with her. At last, she came to a halt in front of an ornate, golden door.

“Come, see what you can find.”

Mona Lisa touched a few intricate symbols engraved in the door, and it swung open. Caitlin stared at it, transfixed, as it opened to reveal a golden room.

“Welcome to your past.”
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