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Our August Flash Contest was based on Prompt #214 (provided by Stone Soup intern Sage Millen), which asked that participants channel their inner Dickens and write about two cities—utopian and dystopian—that were right next to each other. We received a wide breadth of submissions (including a couple poems), all with brilliant world-building. Two of the winning submissions were epistolary, though their plots were completely different; one was a letter from a condemned father to his saved daughter and the other was a series of letters between strangers turned friends. Many submissions decided to flip the trope of "utopia," crafting utopian cities with sinister motives, while others stuck to the literal definition. Others took their cities into space as well as the future. As always, we thank all who submitted and encourage you to submit again next month!

In particular, we congratulate our Winners and our Honorable Mentions, whose work you can appreciate below.

Winners
"Tend to My Grave" by Sophie Li, 11
"The Unknown War" by Evan Lu, 13
"The Oasis" by Lui Lung, 13
"Magic Wands" by Pranjoli Sadhukha, 12
"Crimson Messenger" by Olivia Yu, 13

Honorable Mentions
"The Peacemakers and the Jupiters" by Arnav Bansal, 12
"A Glimmer of Hope" by Reena Bao, 12
"The Light in the Darkness" by Samantha Lee, 12
"Where the Utopian Meets the Dystopian" by Aryaman Majumder, 11
"Two Worlds" by Madeline Male, 14


Tend to my Grave

Sophie Li, 11

Dear Amelia: 

I am your father. You may not remember this, but when you were ten years old, you were kidnapped and brought to the bottom of a strange mountain. I tracked you down but when I arrived, your captor had been killed and you had disappeared. All evidence pointed to you traveling up the mountain, so I went up. It was a long and perilous journey and I had begun to fear that you had died along the way, but I continued up the mountain. When I reached the top I was engulfed in blackness for approximately 25 seconds, which left me extremely disoriented. There was a man at the top who asked me who I was, and I remembered, but just barely. He told me I could not enter Paradise because I remembered my name. He was about to push me off a cliff when I asked him about you. It turns out that you had your memory wiped only one hour before I came, and you had been admitted to Paradise. I was too late. You no longer remembered who I was. 

Paradise is not what it seems. They have given you a new identity and a wrong sense of the world. You do the small duties in exchange for the most luxurious place to live. It is the closest ever to a utopian world but you have missed out on the more beautiful part of life.  

There is no love in paradise because love can create conflict. You may miss your family if they are not all there. There are no ideas in paradise because ideas can create disorder. There is no choice in paradise because you may choose wrong. And there is no memory because you may long for the past. But by removing these elements, they are also removing the rewarding parts of love, ideas, memory and choice. But paradise cannot have a fault, cannot have unhappiness. 

The man pushed me off a cliff, but I did not die. Instead, I found myself in the opposite of paradise. It was an overcrowded nation where everyone lived in dumpster-like conditions. A cruel government killed anyone who resisted the government’s orders. The health conditions were disastrous and society was riddled with robbers, bandits, murderers, and illegal drug dealers. 

Tomorrow I will die at the hands of the government. I have received the death sentence and I need your help. 

But you will not understand. I am a stranger to you. To you, I am lying about a made-up world. To you, what is love? What is thought? What is choice? You will stay in paradise, while the father you once loved will die. 

I hope that when this reaches you, you will know, and one day you will break free of the bonds that hold you to Paradise and tend to my grave. 

If you will ever love again, 

Dad 

P.S. Your real name is Rose. 


The Unknown War

Evan Lu, 13

Another dreadful morning for David. Prince David. The Utopia City had been ruthless to them these past few days, and today might be one of the worst yet. While both cities were monarchies, Utopia seemed much more lax in keeping their citizens in check compared to Dystopia.

Forty-seven years prior, Dystopia had been forced to sign a peace treaty, which strictly required them to be amiable with their former adversary. Today, however, things had gone sour. The two cities hadn’t had many recent problems, but there didn’t seem to be an easy resolution for the current obstacle.

“David! Are you there?”

“Oh yes, Dad!” David brought his attention back to the present, “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

David's father, Christopher Thompson, oversaw and managed most things that happened in Dystopia. Being the king, he was tasked with today’s meeting with the Utopian government to ensure the prosperity of their own people. Today was going to be a big day. A day that could change everything for the rundown, desolate little city.

“Dad, promise me you will stay safe meeting with them. Okay?” They both looked down into the courtyard where the local Utopians were shouting at the Dystopians who had traveled up from their canyon home to bear witness to the meeting.

No one really knew how the two cities had originated, but perfectly settled in the recesses of the ravine was Dystopia City while perched on the precipice above laid Utopia City. The geographical difference of their locations had caused quite a bias to form, and had caused them to be at odds with one another for as long as any of the residents could remember.

David glared at the unfolding chaos. While he appreciated their citizens’ loyalty, he wished that the Dystopians hadn’t come to witness the meeting. Times were turbulent enough without their presence adding additional stress.

“Son, I’ll try my best.” His father sighed and ran a hand through his graying hair. “Things could go south, but always know that I love you more than anything in this world.”

“Okay, Dad.” David tried to ignore the rock in his stomach. “I wish you luck in finding peace.”

Tears collected in the corners of David's eyes as his father turned and walked away. As Christopher made his way towards the hangar, David saw a Dystopian citizen break away from the crowd and approach his father.

“My Lord!” The man exclaimed, throwing himself at his father’s feet. “Our city is falling into ruin! Please, I beg you! Save us!”

Taken aback at how suddenly the man had appeared, Christopher could only nod and slowly continue towards his plane as the city’s guards ushered the man back to the crowd.

*****

How am I supposed to convince these bastards!? Christopher thought to himself as he waited in the plush waiting room. In the adjacent room, where the meeting would be taking place, he caught the muffled voices of reporters and newscasters setting up to broadcast the meeting live. He was aware that the meeting was going to be heavily publicized, but this didn’t bother him. What bothered him was the Utopian King’s tardiness.

He was certain that King Alexander Strausberg had been notified of his arrival, but he’d been waiting for almost an hour now. No doubt another power play, but at least he didn’t have to wait under the scrutinizing eyes of all the Utopian reporters. He could already imagine the headlines saturated with propaganda, touting the strength of Utopia and denouncing every weakness of Dystopia.

The waiting, however, had caused his nervousness to sharpen into anger. Who would demand an urgent meeting on their home turf, only to keep the person waiting? King Strausberg would, that’s who.

The door to the meeting room suddenly burst open and an usher waved Christopher into a room that resembled an old court room. Reporters filled the audience and President Strausberg sat on the right side of the room behind a large ornate desk, flanked by many attendants.

He gave Christopher a nonchalant “Hello,” and the meeting abruptly started.

*****

After five long and excruciating hours, Christopher and Alexander walked out of the elevator that had brought them down from the 45th floor. Christopher thought that King Strausberg was happy with the results, but of course he should be. The meeting had been on his whim after all.

“It was nice meeting with you, King Strausberg.” Christopher gave the man a small bow as he stepped out of the elevator. “I hope that we can maintain our relations with you moving forward.”

Alexander merely gave him a tight smile and a small nod before the doors closed.

Christopher walked back to his plane in a daze, not thinking much about the meeting itself, but rather how the President had reacted after they’d agreed to try and meet each other's demands. The meeting had gone somewhat like this:

“Lord Strausberg, as you know, we signed a peace treaty over 47 years ago, but your citizens have been harassing the Dystopians.” There wasn’t any easy way for Christopher to phrase it.

“They would never do that!” Alexander had exclaimed.

“Well, they have.” Christopher had continued, despite the murmuring in the crowd. “You see, your citizens have done many things such as throwing their garbage down into the canyon, shouting insults to us, and adding exorbitant fees and taxes to our traders. The garbage alone has caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to our city.”

“That is an unfortunate situation.” Alexander reflected out loud. “But, as we have no laws regarding the disposal of refuse, I’m unable to provide any assistance in that matter.”

“Well, something will need to be done.” Christopher said firmly. “The citizens won’t be able to bear this discrimination for much longer.”

Alexander had considered this for a few moments before leaning forward in his chair to announce, “While it’s not my job to manage the emotions of your citizens, I will make an announcement to the Utopians regarding their behavior.”

The rest of the meeting had gone on to focus on future improvements to the Utopian society, completely ignoring King Christopher’s presence. While Alexander had at least addressed the unfair treatment of the Dystopians, Christopher knew no real change would come of it.

*****

After Christopher returned to the depressed city, he called an emergency meeting in the town center using a shattered megaphone.

“Everyone,” he started, “while our concerns were addressed, the response was the same as in years prior. I do not foresee that things are going to change between our two societies. And there is no way we can keep living like this, enduring their ways. So, I’ve decided we must take our fates into our own hands and strike first before—”

A deafening cheer rippled through the town center before Christopher could finish, causing him to jump. He knew the resentment had been building, but he hadn’t anticipated such a response.

From that moment on, the two cities became enemies, and Utopia didn’t know a single thing. Christopher began strategizing how to destroy them, and he already knew who he should find.

*****

Strolling through the streets, he scanned for Arnold Smith.

Arnold Smith always lurked in the shadows, almost as if he was part of them himself. His name was always in the Dystopian headlines; the one to avoid, the “Dystopian Disaster."

All of a sudden, Christopher saw a flash of movement down a dark alley. His head snapped back, and saw that it was him. The one and only notorious causer of mayhem—Arnold Smith.

“Hey Arnold!” Christopher called out, “We gotta talk!”

Meeting the grubby little man wasn’t the most pleasant thing, but Christopher was desperate, and that meant going to extreme measures.

After much arguing, they came to an agreement. David would pay him 100 Dysfunctional Dollars, in exchange for his bombing of Utopia. This would allow the two cities to not go into a full-scale war, but it would guarantee Dystopia a win. Since printed currency was a rare item reserved for nobility, most Dystopians bartered their goods or services to get needed supplies. One hundred Dystopian Dollars was the equivalent of two small mansions in the safety of the plush suburbs.

Arnold quickly agreed to Christopher’s deal. After all, who would be stupid enough to pass up such an opportunity?

*****

“But where would I get the materials!” said Arnold frustratedly after Christopher had taken his leave.

This was his first time getting put on the spot with such a request, especially with that much money on the line. There was no way he could have declined the King. But the materials to make as big an explosion that King Christopher was asking for was almost impossible to come across. Additionally, his deadline was in just 3 days! It was going to be crucial to find the materials well before that.

Arnold had placed himself in tighter situations. But he knew he definitely wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon.

*****

“BREAKING NEWS!” The female reporter cried, jarring Arnold from his brief slumber.

He rubbed his eyes and took stock of his surroundings.

He’d fallen asleep on his work table poring over possible ideas. Across the table’s surface were multiple lists of materials, scribbled notes, and ripped-up plans. He turned back to his worn-out tube television to see a feed of a large plume of black smoke twisting up into the sky.

“A power plant has just exploded on the East side of Dystopia!” Her voice seemed to be shaking as she relayed the info to the viewers.

Arnold was still groggy, but he decided that it was his only shot. The power plant would have the necessary liquids that could be used to create an explosion large enough to satisfy his requirements. He knew that he could be putting his life in danger by going there so soon after the blast, but it was his best chance at fulfilling the King’s request.

He left his house, half-dressed, and jumped into his car. He flew down the road, well over the speed limit, but no policeman stopped him. He figured they must all be busy directing people away from the power plant.

He dodged in and out of traffic and made it to the plant in a little less than an hour. He arrived to find that the entire area surrounding the power plant was deserted. They must have all evacuated already, Arnold thought to himself as he hid his car behind a large mass of rubble. The Geiger counter installed in the dash of his car began to crackle and the red needle flickered to life, thrashing back and forth along the spectrum.

He threw open his door and bolted for his trunk. This is what he got for being half awake and not being prepared. He pulled his radioactive jumpsuit and oxygen tank from the trunk and checked the tank’s gauge. Half left. More than enough for a quick in and out operation. No time for scavenging possibly useful materials this time, though.

Once suited up, Arnold picked his way across the smoldering grounds towards what would have been the inner workings of the plant. Now, he just had to find the chemical. He ran across the factory grounds and just climbed over a crumbling wall when another explosion in front of him rocked the ground and sent concrete bits flying everywhere. He doubled back over the wall in time to see a white flash light up the morning sky. A deafening boom blasted through the wall and Arnold found himself hurling through the air like a rag doll.

Everything went black.

His eyes burned. Nothing felt right.

Miraculously, Arnold regained consciousness and tried to make sense of where he was. The power plant! His mission!

He forced his aching body up and was relieved to only find some cuts, bumps, and definitely some bruising. But no broken bones? What a lucky day! He made a mental note to swipe some lottery tickets as he hurriedly retraced his steps back to his car.

Arnold’s oxygen tank had gone missing, but he was just relieved that it hadn’t exploded on him just now. He also hadn’t found the liquid he was looking for, but he figured it wouldn’t do any good if he was dead. The drive back felt like an eternity as sore muscles started to set in. He felt something drip from one of his ears and he wiped something away that looked to be blood. Ah! His eardrums must have ruptured because of the explosion. No wonder it sounded like it was raining despite the clear skies.

Once back home, Arnold reached into the pocket of his jumpsuit out of habit for his keys and brushed his hand against a small vial. He pulled it out to find it half full of a light blue, gooey liquid.

“Ahhh!” Arnold was still too disoriented to get out any real words, but this was the exact thing that he’d needed!

He figured, somehow, when the tank exploded in front of him, a tiny bit splashed onto his jumpsuit. The jumpsuit did more than just protect him from radiation. It could also immediately absorb and store liquids in small containers located in the pockets.

Immediately, he took out a beaker and emptied the substance in there. Without taking a break, he assembled the other parts of the bomb that he’d prepared the night before and dumped the newly acquired liquid into the bomb’s holding tank. He screwed the lid on and sat back in awe.

He had somehow completed the seemingly impossible, barely 24 hours after the King’s request. Now all he had to do was relax (and heal), and wait for the deadline.

He promptly fell asleep in his chair and snored away, exhaustion blanketing over both his recent mission and his desired lottery tickets.

*****

A few days later, it was time to execute the plan. Arnold realized that launching the bomb was an almost frighteningly easy task. It was just a matter of finding the right cannon. The city held many historic ones from past wars. All he needed to do was find the appropriate one and launch the small canister at the designated time.

*****

BOOM! The thunderous sounds echoed down through the valley as the cannon launched Arnold’s bomb in a steep arc up into the sky. Buildings shook and people came out into the street to see what had caused the noises and tremors.

A few seconds later another deep rumble sounded throughout the ravine, and a large, dense pillar of smoke ballooned up into the sky from behind the ridge of the canyon walls.

And, just like that, Utopia City was gone.

*****

The cleanup took many years, but the Dystopians slowly restored the decimated land above the canyon.

Surprisingly, there were more salvageable items than what they had expected to find, allowing the Dystopians to adopt many ideas and cultural habits from the Utopians.

Contrary to their name, the Dystopians actually became incredibly happier after the Unknown War, as it came to be known.

Arnold was declared a Dystopian hero, but he soon went exploring far beyond Utopia and wasn’t heard from again. It was speculated that his adventures had brought him to new-found places where he could share his talents and inventions with others. Wreaking havoc as he went.

King Christopher lived a long happy life with his family. He retired many years later, allowing Prince (now King) David to take over the Kingdom.

While the Unknown War had been a great shock to everyone, the new land allowed the Dystopians to flourish with their newfound space and freedom, free from the oppression of the Utopians. With these new opportunities, they rebuilt the city’s buildings and added ever-climbing skyscrapers.

As they had become the mean of both Dystopian and Utopian culture, King David decided to rename their new society “Neutropia," with the hope of simultaneously granting each citizen full inclusion and protection from any further discrimination.


The Oasis

Lui Lung, 13

We once had names. 

I think I had one, too, from a time too long ago for me to recall. But it wasn’t mine anymore. I didn’t know if anything really was mine. 

Mine, mine, mine. I ran the syllables over my tongue, relishing it, my voice a shredded whisper. What a funny word indeed. I hadn’t found cause for it to rest on my lips in a while. 

My fingers traced the black, rigid numbers inked into the skin of my forearm. Four, zero, eight, two, nine. I had—no, I was—a number now, one of far too many. Forgettable. It was the reminder that I was nothing, the barest rattling breath of life in the ceaseless stretch of billions.  

The rhythmic rising and falling of boots had me dodging behind another crumbling husk of a building, digging into my back as I flattened myself against the wall, where faded paint and unruly plants fought for space. I couldn’t think of what they were, really. The boy I had been would’ve been ashamed; I had spent more time among soil and seeds than with the others my age. I could not remember a single name to match the kind that crept across the concrete. They were nameless like me. 

When the patrols passed, I went on, my feet silent. There were no pockets of lamplight to steer away from. They only bothered with the struggle to keep the power on for the watchtowers, which I had painstakingly mapped out for the weeks before that all led up to this. 

I knew it was stupid, risking everything, and yet I had to see it for myself. I had to know if it was real. 

There was never enough energy to go around nowadays, much less the sustainable kind. While the others were flooded with a sickly yellow glow, one of the watchtowers remained as bleak as the dark smog that wreathed the decrepit rooftops. 

The guards worked in patterns, and the rotation just one minute before midnight was my chance. A guard’s hand lifted in a signal. Sixty seconds. I moved. Everything I knew was always so carefully numbered. 

I was a few feet up the shadowed side of the tower in a few hushed bursts of breath. Rung after rung, I lifted myself higher at the most relentless pace I could manage. They say it’s the city that never sleeps. My chest heaved, but I couldn’t stop now. The lights are always on like the stars that used to adorn the skies. I was nearing the top, I realized. No one ever goes hungry. All the children go to school. The men are handsome and the women are beautiful. 

The city on the other side of the Wall carried its very own name, claimed another whisper from the soot-lined streets—the Oasis, they called it, the last scrap of the glorious empire that the human race had once dominated. 

I had to be almost seventy feet above it all. I felt above it all. Still, I was frightened to open my eyes. Cautiously, slowly, my eyes slid open like the unfurling of a delicate bud. I could almost smell the fragrance of springtime. I swayed, and I almost fell from my perch. 

It was real. 

A sight so perfect greeted me that I was afraid that I would blink and the image would shatter. With buildings of gleaming glass reflecting a world of endless light, roads freshly paved and…empty. All of it was bare, devoid of a sign of any sign of life despite the luminescence of the city itself. Where were all its people? 

“Hey!” 

My heart felt as if it had leaped into my throat as my head swiveled and caught sight of a girl, only she was so blatantly different that I stared instead of fleeing. She had to be from the Oasis, with that pale skin and eyes of sky blue that they so favored, a harsh contrast to the bronze complexion and deep brown gaze that bore a disdainful mark. But what was she doing, settled on a tower similar to our own that I had somehow missed before in my awe? 

“You. What are you doing here?” she demanded. 

“What are you doing here?” I retorted before I could stop myself. She had seen me. No one had been meant to see me. 

The girl looked at me like it was obvious. “I wanted to see it.” She pointed to the crumbling wasteland that I despised to call my home with a strange look in her eyes that might have been one of longing. “I wanted to see the Oasis.” 


Magic Wands

Pranjoli Sadhukha, 12

In messy crayon, the picture began to form. First was a tall man with curly hair colored deep brown and a wide smile. Next came a redheaded woman with the same big, U-shaped smile holding the hand of a little girl in a pink dress labeled “Maisey." She then created another girl, a little bit taller, with “Me” written sloppily above in a soft orange.  

The crayons were magic wands, weaving a blissful world. The sky was a vibrant blue and the impeccable green grass tickled the toes of the happy family under the puffy white clouds. Behind them was a little yellow house, with a white picket fence in front of it, and pink and purple flowers in the yard.  

In this world, eight year old Emmi and five year old Maisey could go to school in a happy yellow bus every day and make friends. In the afternoons, when they came home, they would play on the grass and, sometimes, their parents would join them. The picture held the promise of summer evenings with lemonade and s’mores and winter nights cuddled up by the fireplace, together, as a family. 

“It’ll just be a little longer… okay Emmi.” The voice brought her back to the office and she blinked as if taking in her surroundings for the first time. She sat on a worn gray rug in the middle of a dull, empty room clutching her crayons. Emmi looked down at the picture, the only splash of color among the grayness, then up at the woman standing in the doorway. She gave her a small smile, saying in a soft voice, “Don’t worry, we’re going to figure this all out.”

Emmi barely heard the words, memories coming back to haunt her in crashing waves. She remembered how she and her sister Maisey had gone to live with a family last fall. But the nice shelter office lady had come back after a few weeks to take them. She had told them that the family had changed their mind about adopting them for some unknown reason. She remembered the weeks of waiting with Maisey, and the feeling of uncertainty that made it hard for her to breathe. Emmi remembered listening as someone gently explained to her how Maisey was going to be adopted by another couple but they weren’t able to take both of them at that time. “She’s going to be happy, don’t worry, and they might come to get you soon too.” She remembered clinging to Maisey, and hugging her tightly, wishing she could hold on to her forever.  

After Maisey left, the next few months all Emmi felt was a dull, throbbing sadness. Today, she had been sitting in the shelter office, hoping to meet some new people who had shown interest. She turned to her drawing again and, tightly gripping the purple crayon, she wrote the words, “My family” at the top of the paper. Emmi smiled softly, remembering the funny faces Maisey used to make at her. Just for a moment, she could ignore everything. This picture was color and light bursting from the hope in her heart. It was all that mattered, this drawing that she had full, unbridled control over. 

But all the pain that she had known was slowly taking over and bringing her back to the gray and dark. Her magic wands were writing a beautiful song, but the harshness around her was belting it out of key and making it sound cacophonous. She stared at the chipped paint on the wall and the flickering lights on the ceiling. The woman walked back into the room again. She held out a hand and gently said, “The Brooks' aren’t going to be able to come to see you today. Come on honey, you’ve been waiting here too long… you must be tired, let’s get you something to eat." Emmi grabbed a handful of crayons—blue, yellow, red and purple—and tucked them inside her backpack, pulling the straps onto her shoulders. She could breathe a bit easier knowing that she had her magic wands with her, and that maybe, someday soon, she would go to live with Maisey. 


Crimson Messenger

Olivia Yu, 13

Tuesday, June 7, 2625

Dear Stranger,

It was still night when your beautiful messenger owl flew into my window. Where are you from? Your owl isn’t a species I recognize. Her crimson feathers are light to the touch, and her fur is an astounding black, almost like coal. It seems she was created in a lab. Where I am from, owls send letters from one to another. What about you?

Azura

Thursday, June 9, 2625

Hello, Azura,

I am from Demonia, and you? My home is a place filled with tall metallic buildings creaking when the wind comes. There is a brick wall surrounding all of our city. It is always dark here as the sun can’t penetrate the thick layer of smoke. Do you live somewhere else? I always believed that my home was the only place there was—just us underneath the gray sky. What color are your owls? We have crimson, lilac, and cerulean. They used to breed owls in the labs here in Demonia, but now the labs are all abandoned. Some owls are wild while some are sold around the city. My mother bought one for me as a gift. My owl must have flown away last night and found you. When I woke up, I saw her with your letter attached to her leg.

I don’t recognize your name—also what do you look like? I have never seen myself before. Before I was born, the mirrors were shattered to use as weapons against the guards. I have brown hair and from what my mother has told me, I have gray eyes. I don’t believe it though—no one can have gray eyes. At least not in Demonia.

Cal

Monday, June 13, 2625

Cal,

My home of Elysix doesn’t sound like Demonia. I have seen the wall you talk about, but my home is filled with trees and jungle plants as we live inside of them. The trees can grow to be the size of your buildings that I see above your walls. We have carved out the insides of the dead trees, cut out windows in the walls, and we take showers in the spring water streams.

Do you know what a waterfall is? Or a rose? We have flowers everywhere here. My favorite flower is the hibiscus, which is edible and has a bright vermillion color. The drink made from it is sweet and tart! I am attaching a little capsule of it for you to try. My mother named me after the azure allium, a blue flower. She loves it for its spherical shape. The waterfalls are in lush areas with vegetation and willow trees above us. I suppose willows aren’t very common in jungle areas, but there are a couple! How lucky are we!

I only know a little bit about Demonia. Tell me, what do you eat? Over here, we have fruits the size of our heads! The pineapple is sour and sweet and the mango is soft and delicious. I don’t even know you very well, however, I wish you could come and give them a taste. Also, I have black hair and dark brown eyes. You’re right, I have never seen someone with gray eyes.

Azura

Tuesday, June 14, 2625

Azura,

Thank you for the little jar of hibiscus juice! You’re correct, it is sweet and tart. Over here, we have nothing like that. We don’t eat much, just what we can find. Normally, canned food from years ago is our main food. I don’t know what or who Heinz is, but their beans are pretty good, even after years and years. Our king, or, as my mother calls him, our dictator, Ren, doesn’t give us food. He blames us for the destruction of his once-beautiful city. But, what puzzles me is that you live right outside of our walls. Our buildings are unsafe and could collapse at any moment. Our place seems terrible compared to your home. Do you not see the gray cloudy sky above us?

Why can’t we try your food or live where you are, and why do we have to live like this? You truly are lucky. Do you know of our situation over in Elysix?

Cal

Sunday, June 19, 2625

Dear Cal,

My ancestors lived there—my great-great-great uncle built the bathhouse in Demonia. Is it still there? Have you lived there all your life? They said they moved after they discovered Elysix. My parents and their parents have all lived here.

We can see the gray sky, but I always believed that Demonia was a place where no humans resided. I am mistaken. Cal, what does your dictator do? Does he let you starve? I must know, maybe my people can help yours.

Azura

Wednesday, June 23, 2625

Dear Azura,

Thank you for the flower, a rose right? I showed my mother, and she adores roses now! Could you attach more flowers with every letter? I would love to experience more of Elysix. I don’t believe I could offer you anything of value from Demonia. Although, I’ll send you some Heinz beans in the capsule you sent me.

My father tells me that Ren does starve us. Starvation must be when I feel that emptiness inside me. He must have been unsure whether or not to tell because that would criticize Ren. I had always thought that everyone eats the same amount and that it is fair, but I am certainly wrong.

Our baths are cold and in the ruined bath house your great-great-great uncle made. And no, I have never seen a waterfall. Tell me in your next letter all about Elysix so one day, when I go over there, I don’t have to pester you with questions.

Your friend, Cal

Monday, June 28, 2625

Dear Cal,

First, thank you for the beans! I shared them with my family. Some of us liked it, but some didn’t. It was a great experience! Second, I could go on about Elysix forever! We do not have walls, and we travel across bridges in the air. They connect to all the trees and are made of wood and vines. The birds here are colorful and my grandmother once told me that every bird has their own unique song. We have fish that swim in the streams, some large, some small, all scaled. The color of the scales ranges from gray to rainbow! Sometimes, if we catch a rather big fish, we roast it on a fire and distribute it among our family.

My family includes myself, my parents, my grandparents, and my two little sisters and big brother. Whenever we go scavenging for food, we share what we find. We live in harmony with the other families. Peace and amity are something we value and respect here.

My grandparents told me that all the citizens in Demonia wrecked the amazing city with all the air pollution and trash everywhere. Crime increased and even with all the incredible technological creations, it wasn’t safe to live in anymore. So, they left. At least those of us who could. The rest were captured by your dictator and punished with starvation from what you have told me. That’s why we adapted to a greener, healthier life here in Elysix.

But never mind all of that—how will you come here? Do you need my help?

Always here, Azura

Friday, July 2, 2625

Dear Azura,

I can’t put you in danger, not after you first attached your note to my owl. You are my friend, and from what I know, friends don’t hurt friends. All I want you to know is that my family and myself will try to make our way over to Elysix.

I can’t disclose my plan if someone receives this letter. Please don’t reply to this letter, I have been given a warning not to let my owl out as the guards always see my owl with something on her leg. They are suspicious. I need to escape. Hopefully, it’s not too late. I don’t want to endanger my only friend. I will look for you in Elysix and maybe I’ll see the waterfalls you mentioned.

But for now, since you asked, the only thing I need from you is for you to have faith in me.

Wishing you the best, Cal

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