The Secret Behind Her Smile

Author: Irene Montaner

By the time the aliens reached Paris, the streets were empty. Parisians and tourists alike had sought shelter inside the many churches in the city or underground in the metro tunnels. They prayed and hid or hid and prayed but regardless of their choice their end came fast. Ruthless and painful.

I didn’t run.

I stayed where I was, inside the Louvre. There’s something romantic about spending my last living moments surrounded by beauty, accompanied by some of the finest art ever produced by human hands.

Petrified, I listen to the first echoes of destruction. Through the windows I see Paris collapse. Houses, churches, monuments, all burning. The city is ablaze under a dense cloud of smoke. Heavy green bodies lean from the Eiffel tower until it bends and breaks. A handful of green colossi glide along the river, wrecking all the bridges over the Seine. And some are mocking their own reflections on the crystal pyramid. Glass shatters. The aliens are coming and I still haven’t seen her.

Time to run.

I run downstairs and race along endless corridors lined with hundreds of exquisite paintings and antiques. I find her in the same room where she has been for the last decades. There she is, behind bulletproof glass. She with the mysterious smile. She with the coy eyes. She with the plain looks and the rich robes. I look at her like millions before me.

Their foot-stomping startle me. I turn around and find myself cornered by six of them. Six tall, muscular, green monsters, their heads too small for their sturdy bodies. The look at me and laugh. They take another look and grunt. Their grumbling goes on for a while until one of them lifts its left arm and the rest shut up. It lifts its other arm, points its weapon at me and pulls the trigger.

My body plummets but I’m not bleeding. I feel myself burning, a fire consuming me from the inside. From my dying place, I see their leader walk past me, smash the protective glass and rip the canvas off its frame. I look at her one last time and see into her like no one before me, unraveling the mystery behind her tight lips and smiling eyes. She, too, had met these visitors five hundred years ago. And unlike any of us, she lived to tell it, only that she didn’t. Until this very moment.

The enormous fist squeezes the painting and Mona Lisa’s smile vanishes forever as the paint cracks and falls off the canvas. I close my eyes and vanish too, leaving nothing but ashes scattered on the floor.

Her secret is safe with me.


  1. Cat Thompson

    Love it. I might make some of my art history students read it. Only the special ones who also like science/speculative fiction.

  2. xdhz8

    Meanwhile over at Musée d’Orsay … Interesting approach to set an invasion story amongst great art.

  3. Suzanne Borchers

    Thank you!

  4. Hari Navarro

    I love how you wrote the last seconds of life from the characters, ‘dying place’. A little cocoon at the very end of existence. Just enough time to catch your breath and know that the bullies will never win.

  5. J.D. Rice

    Great read – this was a nice, thoughtful vignette with a different perspective than you see in many disaster stories. Keep writing.

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