Our March Flash Contest was based on our weekly creativity prompt #142, asking contestants to stretch the limits of their imagination in order to write a story set somewhere they had never been. As always, selecting the winners was exceedingly difficult due to the abundance of quality work, but this month our editors were left especially in awe as three different pieces were also selected to be published separately on the blog. These writer's comprehensive world building ability and infinite capacity for imagination were on display as we received submissions ranging from metafictional meditations on writing to poetic renderings of an encounter with a yeti to Frankenstein's spinning in perpetuity! We thank all who entered this month's contest and encourage everyone to keep submitting!
In particular, we congratulate our Honorable Mentions and our Winners, whose work you can appreciate below. And a special shout out to Lake Oswego, Oregon, Scarsdale, New York, and the state of Oregon as a whole, as four out of five of Winners came from these two cities and half of all entrants selected for recognition came from Oregon!
Frank in the Galaxy by Kimberly Hu, 8, Lake Oswego, OR
Complete by Shriya Roy, 13, Highland, CA
The Legend of Mount Himalaya by Audrey Li, 13, Scarsdale, NY
Underworld Adventure by Rex Huang, 11, Lake Oswego, OR
Lost in Blocks by Scarlet He, 10, Scarsdale, NY
Green Ivy by Riya Agarwal, 11, Portland, OR
Unknown Train Trip by Charelle Jan Ramo, 10, Hilo, HI
The Ice Jester by Chelsea Liang, 11, San Jose, CA
Somewhere by Madeline Cleveland, 11, Belleville, WI
Shipwreck in North Pole by Roger Krishna, 6, Portland, OR
Chosen for the Stone Soup COVID-19 Blog
Going Viral by Ender Ippolito, 9, Portland, OR
Chosen for the Stone Soup Blog
Spring by Porter Younkin, 9, Medford, OR
Life Inside a Staircase by Arjun Nair, 9, Midlothian, VA
Frank in the Galaxy
Kimberly Hu, 8
Frank Tewdrop, a Frankenstein, named after the famous Frankenstein Frank Jobbie, had been thrown way far away from his home, the Jobbs planet. Where did Frank get thrown? In the galaxy.
When Frank got thrown into the galaxy, he got dizzy. He was suffering from dizziness. But, nothing happened to Frank other than getting dizzy and spinning around in the galaxy. What would happen to Frank? Would this happen for the rest of his life? Or would he somehow get saved? Or what?
Chapter 1: Frank got in trouble
Frank was taking a walk around in the stained neighborhood, no idea why it was called that. Frank was so busy thinking about why the stained neighborhood was called the stained neighborhood that he accidentally bumped into the very fragile, most famous, awarded, and worshipped statue in all of the Jobbs planet.
The statue of Frank Jobbie, Frank thought.
Then Frank realized that he didn’t really care about the statue of Frank Jobbie. What was he thinking?!
Frank turned and saw a big crack in the statue of Frank Jobbie, or, as Frank liked to call it instead of saying the statue of Frank Jobbie so many times, TEE-ESS-OH-EF-JAY. That’s just how you pronounce it. I mean, how you pronounce the letters. So, it would be TSOFJ, right? See, say TEE. What letter does that sound like? Yes, it sounds like the letter T. Now you get it.
Oh no no no oops not AGAIN, Frank thought very worriedly. Frank had already broken TSOFJ once three years ago on accident because Frank’s spirit was strong. Frank was big and his hands were big, as were his feet, arms, legs, and just entire body. Except...his head. Well...it was SHORT. Frank’s head was SHORT.
Luckily when Frank had broken TSOFJ he had been forgiven and TSOFJ’s broken part had been rebuilt. But the builders said, if Frank ever broke TSOFJ again, he would not be forgiven. And this time was that time.
Frank was very alarmed. Frank wanted to run away as fast as he could, but he knew he couldn’t. He had committed another crime. At least, breaking a part of TSOFJ was a crime.
Frank stood still with his mouth open and his legs startling. Frank knew there were secret security cameras around TSOFJ to make sure nothing happened to TSOFJ. It was too late. The security cameras had seen Frank, and Frank had no other choice than to stay still and accept it.
Chapter 2: Prepare To Get Thrown, Frank
Before he knew it, Frank had been found by officer Ted, Jenny, Reana, Sammy, Will, Alan, Tobie, who was Ted’s golden retriever dog, and Garcia, who was Will’s golden retriever dog. Yes, they had golden retrievers, human dogs. How? Here’s how: earth explorers (Frankensteins who explore earth) stole them and gave them Jobbs breathing water so the golden retrievers could breathe on the Jobbs planet.
“YOU BIG KID! THE ONE FROM THREE YEARS AGO! REMEMBER, YOU WILL NOT BE FORGIVEN! OVER HERE, EVERYBODY! CAPTURE THE KID!!” Ted yelled. Jenny, Reana, Sammy, Will, and Alan nodded while Tobie and Garcia ran to Frank. Frank stood still, and his hands were tied.
Frank thought about how he didn’t like the officers’ Ted, Jenny, Reana, Sammy, Will, Alan, and their golden retrievers Tobie and Garcia. He called them The Bad Team, or TBT.
Soon enough, Frank and the officers were at the Jobbs police station. “Mr. Yeal, this kid broke a part of the statue of Frank Jobbie. What punishment should we give him?” Ted asked to Xander Yeal
Frank also hated Xander Yeal, called Mr. Yeal, but only Frank called Mr. Yeal Mr. Beans.
“THIS KID?” Mr. Beans growled loudly. “The kid that broke the statue of Frank Jobbie three years ago? Named Frank Tewdrop? Hmph. If you have already broken the statue, why did you do it again?! You don’t deserve to be named Frank, kid. Frank Jobbie is a very honored Frankenstein. He was also the first Frankenstein to discover Earth, the planet where humans live. Officers, get this kid out of the room and I will explain his punishment.”
“Yes, Mr. Yeal,” Ted said. “You mean Mr. Beans,” Frank whispered.
No one heard him. Good.
Frank got dragged to another random room, and since there was no one in the room, Frank walked up to the door and put his ear as close as he could to the door. Frank heard faint talking.
“So, what is our punishment for this kid who doesn’t deserve to be named Frank?” Frank heard. That must be Jenny, Frank thought. “I think it should be a far bad punishment,” another voice said. That’s Will, Frank thought again. “Ah, yes, I had figured this kid would break the statue of Frank Jobbie later on,” someone who must have been Mr. Beans said. “And a few minutes ago was the later on. Good. Here is the punishment.”
And then Frank heard a bunch of whispering, but did not hear them clearly. I wonder what my punishment is, Frank thought. I have no escape now. Oh my goodness, what am I supposed to do?
Chapter 3: The Punishment Begins
“Come here, kid,” Ted told Frank. Frank paused for a second and quickly nodded. Ted and the other officers walked Frank outside all the way to some thing. Frank didn't know what it was and he didn’t know how to describe it. The only word he could think of to describe it was red. Of course, that didn’t help at all. But it was something that Frank knew had something to do with his punishment. Frank waited to see.
“Get in here, kid,” Ted said. Ted was pointing to a big box (because Frank was big) that seemed like it would fit in the thing. I guess that thing did have something to do with my punishment then! Oh, I wish I could sigh. “Hey, kid! Get in the box or else you will be slapped with my whip fifty times!”
Frank quickly got inside the box and the box was closed. Frank felt the box moving into the thing. Okay. Frank wished he could fall asleep and never wake up so he wouldn’t have to experience the punishment. But there was no way that was happening now.
BOOOOOOOOOOOOM! Frank felt himself launching way far away from Jobbs planet, and the box being bombed, and soon Frank was not in the box anymore. Then...what Frank saw was beautiful! But, he would be stuck in this beautiful place forever. The beautiful place had lots of colors...Frank thought it was impossible to explain just like the thing. But...the beautiful place was the galaxy! Then suddenly…
Frank was spinning. Spinning! Oh no, what a punishment. But how could the officers and Mr. Beans make Frank spin? No, it was impossible for the spinning to be caused by Mr. Beans and the officers. Then suddenly Frank remembered when he was born, he felt very dizzy and felt like he was spinning. His mother had said he was spinning. For one hour. Very long. No one knew why.
When the spinning stopped, the dizziness didn’t stop. Frank had sat in his comfy crib crying of the dizziness. Later on, after three more hours, the dizziness stopped. Frank had grown up with his parents dead a year after he was born and was raised by Yifa Jones, always wondering about that dizziness and spinning.
Now Frank was going to be spinning again, and he was going to be dizzy again. It was not caused by anyone he knew or anyone on the Jobbs planet. Why was this happening? No, Frank would never figure it out. But he hoped at least someone would.
Then Frank suddenly had a thought. What thought? Well, this is what Frank thought. Wait, if I had been dizzy for so long when I was a baby, how did I survive? I would have probably at least been sick, but when the dizziness stopped the doctors said there was no problem with me and my health. Does that mean...OH NO I AM GOING TO BE STUCK HERE FOREVER AND I WILL NEVER DIE! Why…
And that is what happened to Frank. He was stuck there forever with what he thought was the worst life ever.
Thanks to myself, I came up with the idea of Frank In The Galaxy when I coded something in scratch. It was supposed to be random, but inspired me. I had picked a random sprite, and that sprite had green skin, was big, had a short head, and was like a Frankenstein. And when I saw this sprite, he was exactly named Frank. I coded Frank to spin forever, and my background was the galaxy, which was also random. I don’t know how this could inspire me to make this story.
Shriya Roy, 13
The girl was trapped in her own story.
She could not remember when or how it happened. Somehow, she had fallen asleep on the paper and woken up in a world she could not recognize, the realization she was in her story coming soon after the fear. It was a story she had been trying to finish for years, but the ending had never come to her.
Her name was Sky Ableen. A withdrawn girl of about 13, she stood tall and lanky with brown hair, but even browner eyes. Sky’s mother had died three years ago, leaving her alone with her busy father to go through the trials and tribulations of life without much guidance. Dealing with trauma at such an early age, she turned to writing as an outlet for all her pain and grief, which led to an excellent grade in English, as well as a talent for creative writing. Never in her life had she expected that she would get stuck in her own story. It shouldn’t have even been possible, yet here she was. There had to be a reason she was here.
This story was one about her mother, a great author as well as a mother, kind and brilliant. Before her passing, the family always said Sky had inherited the gene for writing from her mother. Naturally, she knew it probably wasn’t true, but she still liked imagining she had that bit of her mother, always. Even if Sky had lost most other parts, barely even resembling her, she still had her stories, and her writing.
A school bell was ringing in the distance, and suddenly Sky remembered what she had been writing about. It was a story about a picture she had seen, a picture of her mother receiving first place at a school literature competition, blue ribbon and all. Worries swimming around in her head, she stood up in the green grass she had been sitting on and had a sudden thought. If this was a story about her mother as a child, maybe Sky could see her again. It would not actually be her mother of course, but she would take what she could get. Quickly, she ran towards the gates of the school, trying to remember where she had written the cafeteria entrance in this story. Making a left turn towards three pillars, she saw a group of girls with backpacks making their way into a building. She had found it. Following the girls at a brisk pace, she slipped into the cafeteria, feeling blinded by the bright lights.
Sky made her way through all the kids and parents, quickly finding an empty seat and sitting down, trying to act natural and avoid any gazes. Her eyes scanned the room for a blonde girl with green eyes, her mother. Turning slowly, she spotted her with friends, sitting two tables down the line. Her palms grew sweaty, and her heart started racing faster than it already was. She could not believe her eyes. With her emotions in a frenzy, she made a futile effort to regain composure. Trying not to cry, she turned back around in time for the lights to dim and the principal of the school to walk onstage.
A stout woman with glasses, this principal reminded her of an old teacher she had years ago. Slowly, she took out an envelope and began reading.
“Hello boys and girls, you are all here today because the results of our school-wide creative writing contest are about to be revealed. Thank you to every single one of the participants, you are all incredibly talented writers, making it a very difficult choice. Now, I’ve kept you in anticipation long enough, here are the results...”
She had paused, squinting through her glasses, while Sky could hear the nervous chittering of the kids all around her.
“Ah yes, in third place we have Miss Katherine Soot,” she began, pausing as Katherine came up onstage and everyone clapped. “In second place, we have Mr. Charlie Baker,” she continued, pausing once more.
“Woo!” a parent yelled.
“Finally, in first place, we have... Ms. Alice Ritter!” the old woman finished, smiling.
Sky clapped as loudly as she could watching her mother walk on stage, beaming with pride. She took her ribbon and turned around smiling, while the scene stopped moving. Sky looked around and realized this was where she had stopped writing, never able to phrase a conclusion properly. She looked around and stood up.
Making her way on stage, she walked up to her mother and touched the girl’s face. Then, after careful consideration, she hugged her tightly, knowing this was just a character in her story, but feeling love for her, nonetheless. As Sky backed away, she noticed she had knocked paper out of her mother’s hands. Realizing it was the story Alice had won the ribbon for, she picked it up, suspecting it was blank, as this was not real. However, shockingly, writing was there on the page. As Sky looked down, she realized what she was holding. The title of her mother’s work was, “A Letter to My Future Child”.
Carefully, she unfolded the paper and began to read. It was beautifully written, taught lessons about life, and seemed like the last words she never got to hear from her mother. It almost felt like a message from beyond the grave. As she continued reading, she could not hold back tears any longer, letting her mother’s words wash over her and soaking the whole experience in as well as she could. It felt good to read the words after so many years without her. Suddenly, Sky knew how she wanted to end her story. She could end it with a letter.
She was jerked out of her own story just like she had entered, with no explanation, seemingly having dozed off. When she woke up at her house again it was still dark out, and she thought it had all been a dream until she looked in her pocket and realized she still had her mother’s writing. Sky couldn’t process what had happened and was shocked but tired. She walked over to her bed and lay down, nodding off into the world of dreams as soon as her head hit the pillow.
The next morning, Sky woke up feeling different. Less withdrawn, she felt good in a manner she hadn’t felt for years. The trip into this story had been like closure for her in so many ways. She had been able to hug her mother again. Making her way back to her desk, she wrote the ending that had taken her years to finish. Continuing to read through the paragraphs while sorting out her emotions, she realized the story was not the only thing that felt complete.
The Legend of Mount Himalaya
Audrey Li, 13
Howling winds, freezing toes, snow.
These were the only thoughts my mind could make out.
I felt a warm blanket envelop and shield me.
Crap, I’m dying.
I felt some celestial being try to close my eyes. At first I fought back, but then a comforting, large shadow passed over me. I smiled and drifted off.
It was the year 3020 on Mount Himalaya, the tallest mountain in the world as it’s a combination of all of the mountains in the mountain range once known as the Himalayas. Everyone wanted to climb this mountain but because of the fear that many people climbing might cause the giant mountain to melt and flood Earth, only a few groups were selected. No one besides these few chosen groups had ever climbed to the summit of Mount Himalaya. After a few decades it’s been finally decided this would be the first and last people that would climb the mountain. I was part of a lucky research team—one of the five groups selected to go. Originally I was looking forward to this. Who wouldn’t want to make history? Now though, on the brink of death, I just wanted to go home. Eleven (all) of my teammates have perished over the last couple days. I had a feeling that today was my day. I slipped in and out of consciousness. I tried to summarize everything that happened in the past few days but my brain wouldn’t work.
I saw a flash of bright neon green of my departed teammate’s jackets and suddenly words started popping up in my brain.
Grass. White. Fuzzy. Warm. Happy. Secret.
This unlocked more memories:
Trudging out of the cave, shaken and upset that my teammates had died, bringing all the salvageable supplies.
Falling into a hole made as a trap.
Waking up in a secret world apparently made inside the mountain.
Secret world has green hills, clean water, a variety of nature, and best of all,
The legend of the Himalayas.
I remember one yeti (named Phil-once translated from the yeti language to English), saving me before the others noticed since it was against the rules for “foul destructive humans” to enter the haven. Any human found would be terminated.
Phil was lonely and enjoyed my company. He brought me back to his den and gave me some “fried snow” (water).
We talked about life: funny moments, best experiences, and many other things.
He hid me in his long, shaggy fur and gave me a tour of the oasis.
As I noticed before, there were clear streams and lakes, bright trees and grass, the peaceful noise of birds chirping in the distance.
He walked to the gleaming white city in the center of this secret world.
I remember myself accidentally hitting Phil’s tickle spot (apparently their only weakness) as I tried to get a more comfortable position in the middle of this city, which, by the way, was full of yetis.
He dropped me and I tumbled down, hitting the ground with a large thud. Every yeti within 10 feet turned and looked at me.
Instantly, I heard shouts of alarm all around me.
The “guard” yetis ran up and trapped me inside a bag.
I blacked out.
I remember Phil turning out to be the King Yeti’s son and was able to get off with no major consequences.
He made a deal with his dad saying that I wasn’t to be terminated, just returned.
The yetis doing a smell search on me to determine where I was from. I remember the guard yetis bringing me back to the cave as I looked blankly ahead. Although I had many layers on, I was cold.
I remember them dropping me back in my cave.
And me now. On the ground. Woken up.
Rex Huang, 11
There was a peculiar property of the rusty old door that Melody did not understand. She couldn't see through it, it was black as a cat. But if you looked through the windows you could see a normal modern house with the beds made and the kitchen set. But there was no one inside, there was no party like Maddy had said. Is this the wrong house? Melody thought. But no, this was the one, 37562 Walnut Street. Is this a prank? She could see from the window that there were pictures of Maddy and her friends hanging out at the bus stop. This was a mystery. Melody loved mysteries. With a beating heart, she stepped through the door to find nothing beneath it.
Falling through a dusty long black chute, Melody recalled what Maddy had said that day. Come to the party with us big girls - if you dare. Now knowing she had been tricked, she looked at the good luck music box she had brought that her grandmother had given her. Wherever she was going, it was not going to be pleasant. The heaven of light was a speck of dust when her back crunched against the hard floor of the ground. She saw a dim candle light in the distance, but her back had snapped. Groaning, she managed to sit up and examine where she was. It was a dungeon, made of stone bricks with overgrown vines intermingling with the orderly structure. Overall, it was an unwelcoming place. The spot she had fallen on was an oddly shaped clump of dirt in the middle of the room. If it was anything less, she would have broken every single bone in her body. Fortunately for her, they weren't. Soon, the toll of sitting up got to her and she closed her eyes and lost all the vertical progress her body had made.
What happened in her dream she wasn’t sure. But one thing was for certain. Maddy was laughing at her. It was eerily reminiscent of the time that Melody laughed at her when she used the wrong hair shampoo, and came to school with an afro. But Maddy had gotten the last laugh. Now she was probably in her home with a real party and celebrating Melody's disappearance.
She awoke in what seemed to be the interior of a tree, or at least she thought. Hazily, she started to recall what had happened the day before. She jolted up as she realized she was not home, rather millions of miles beneath the earth. There was no one in the room, and there didn't seem to be a door anywhere. She tried sitting up but it was like a mountain was on her stomach. So she closed her eyes again.
She was vaguely aware of the voices and the footsteps floating around her. She was vaguely aware of the crunching of pine needles. But what hse was fully aware of was she was in good hands. Whenever her eyes would open the slightest she would see that she was in the care of gnomes of the stories her grandmother had told her, and would rest well in knowing that she was in good hands.
When she could process more than where she was, she put two and two together. She sat up. Her body felt brand new. But this was not a time to celebrate. “Where am I!” Melody shouted at a mildly startled gnome in the room. Instead of answering directly, the gnome pointed to Melody’s left. She turned around and saw not a gnome city but Maddy and her friends.
“How did you end up here?” Melody teased, but Maddy just rolled her head to the other side of the bed. It wasn’t a prank, Melody thought. They didn't know either. But her next question disturbed her: "What will happen to my family?" Her mother was too weak to move most of the time and her dad was always working, working at the two jobs to keep the family afloat. Melody would always have to cook, clean the house, and care for Carl the dog. And what about the Plant More Trees club at school she was the founder of? She sat up and said, “I know I can’t thank you enough but can I get back up?” To which the gnomes simply replied, “The only way up is from the vine at the very east of our village. Then you can climb up to the surface.” Immediately after hearing this, Melody shot up out of her bed, scattering the carefully laid pine needles. She pelted the now shrinking gnome with questions like ”How far is it?” and, “Is the journey dangerous?” All she got was a map and a backpack, and a slammed door. At least the gnomes speak English, Melody mumbled as she asked for directions. After an hour of interrogation, she got some answers:
● It is a full 2 days walk away
● In the middle of the walk, you have to walk an hour inside the woods, where no gnome
dares venture due to it not being subjugated by gnomes. There could be normal animals
like tigers, snakes, and mosquitoes, but also fairies, centaurs, and even ghosts.
● There is a hotel right before the woods, and her money was just enough to rent a small
room and a dwarven beer (The best quality there is!).
With this information, she set out west.
It felt good to be out of the bed, with the sounds of nature and the crisp crunch of autumn leaves beneath her (at least that was the same). But she also heard some mysterious noises. One sounded eerily like an owl but with a snake's rattle. It was getting dark fast, too. But soon, a dim light showed through, and within minutes, there was a small 2 story rickety wooden motel. Inside was a tavern. It was just as any tavern at home would look like, with everything messy and the counter full of drunkards who spilled their drink. She went up to a gnome whose beard didn't look as stained as the others and asked “Pardon me sir, but do you know where the hotel is?” The gnome just smiled and returned to his drink. She asked another to the same reply. Exasperated, she asked the bartender, who pointed upstairs.
The upstairs was a mess. The carpet was stained and the roof was so low even the gnomes who were no taller than 2 feet could touch the ceiling. The wood was rotted like the tavern below, and it reeked of whisky. Still, it was better than worrying about being devoured by an owl-snake. The manager was drunk too apparently because he just slid the money into his hands and slammed the keys on the desk without a care in the world. Cursing under her breath, she just walked over to the room. When she opened the room, Melody’s face turned to stone. The bedsheets were on the ground. No less than 10 spiders were crawling about the room. Melody couldn’t help but think if this was high quality, what would low-quality ones look like? She was pretty sure she saw an apple-sized rat crawl around the room. She didn't even bother to take off her Tommy Bahama shirt because she knew it would only look like everything else in the room and that her body would look like it too. She was too tired to pull up the bedsheets from all the corners of the room. She reckoned it would make sleeping harder than without. Instead, she just cuddled in the bed, almost touching the ceiling drifting to sleep with the reeking smell of whisky with her.
Her dream was a tear-bringing one. She imagined embracing her mother, who had been thoroughly worried, and then saw Carl who was half starved. Everyone had a big reunion. Melody told them stories of dwarves and mythical fairies, and they all sat around the table, each giving heartwarming statements. One thing was for sure: they were happy.
The next morning she woke up sore but felt much better compared to the rag doll she was yesterday. However, she was still not well enough to challenge the woods. But her family needed her. And family is more important than any person. So, she set out for the woods. The woods were just covering a swamp. Once she stepped in, she regretted it. It was like trying to walk through pudding. It's just not possible. But she had to. It sounded like a normal forest, and as relaxing as one. It was not helpful to hear parrots laughing at her as she trudged along the bog. She lost track of time with the miserable muck of the swamp tugging against her already whisky-wet clothes. She lost count of her baby steps through the muck, only tugging her leg even more as she went. One step. Two steps. Three steps. Her counting was disrupted by a mighty ROAR to her left. She tried to whirl around to look, but the muck was gnawing at her waist now, so she couldn’t. Hastily, she spotted a patch of land in front. Knowing she had little time left, she now furiously pumped her legs forward into the patch of brown land. The snarling and sound of claws intensified as Melody thought about what to do if and when she got there. But when she got to the island, she wanted to sink right back into the muck. There was an oasis of this gooey stuff for as far as the eye could see. Wheeling around now she could see the deep green eyes of a red tiger. She opened her green leather adventurer backpack. There was nothing but a bottle of water (now contaminated), a bottle of sunscreen, and a broken ale mug (she didn't know how it got there). There was glass all over the... wait. She could throw this bag at the tiger and it may just hurt it to the point where it would want to leave. The sunscreen and water may even get into its eyes! Her whole body shaking in fright, she chucked the backpack as hard as she could right as the tiger's face emerged from the bushes. Direct hit! It hit the tiger straight in its blue nose, sending it reeling in pain. She heard some howls, and then, nothing. Melody could not confirm that it was dead, but it was no better to stay here. All her provisions were gone, but at least she was safe.
Trudging through the mud, she could finally see a light through the dense forest. The forest was almost cleared. But something was... odd . There was a twinkling in the air that was not natural. The light only seemed to get darker as she moved toward it. But nothing was obscuring it. Melody was a straight-A student in physics and knew that light should not have those properties. As she got closer, she could make out some laughter. A peal of tiny laughter that could only be made by tiny beings. Cautiously trudging forward, she once again heard the mighty ROAR of the lion, but there was obviously nothing she could hear. Once again, there were tiny sounds of giggling followed by even more of the shiny dust being thrown around. She remembered what the townsfolk had said: the woods are also full of magical beings. You may see goblins or unicorns, but the worst are the fairies. They play tricks until you have either passed through or died. Clearly, she was being played with. But what could she do, swat at the air endlessly? Then the laughter would intensify! Wading past it was too slow; it took her a full hour to move past what seemed like 10 trees in length. Instead, she tried to give them some of their own medicine. Mustering all her strength, she called out, "I know you’re here, and I know what is happening to your community. I will break it all if you don't let me pass. Quit your little jokes." Huffing and puffing after that, all she heard was a hushed murmur. Before long, she could finally see what the light was: an illusion. The light had departed. The light was only an illusion for her to keep going forward. But out of the trees in front, there was light, this one as real as she was. Motivated, her tired legs just kept pumping forward. Soon, through the gaps in the leaves, she could see a HUGE lime green pillar extending up as far as she could see.
Walking up to the great green vine, she could only admire how bright the world had seemed after living underground even only for a couple of days. Or was it? Melody didn't know how long she had been out, maybe days or even months! Some local gnomes who looked like they were mining in the local mines saw melody, realized that she wasn’t one of their kind, and approached her, stating, “The way up to the aboveground lays up there. Once you get on the vine, it takes you upward. Be warned: up there is no such thing as myths or magic. It's just a story. You decide. Once you’ve been here once and left, you can't come back. You will forget you were even here. Thus, the realm of magic will be concealed.” This made Melody think twice. In her family, the one thing Melody’s mom loved more than lasagnas were fairy tales and stories of fantasy. And now she was in it all! This was a world of wonders, of beauty all on its own. “No,” Melody said. “I would like to go back up." The world needed her. Her family needed her. The club needed her. Down here, she was just another being, not part of an intricate system. How could she be so selfish when her family depended on her? She embraced the great green vine, and soon, all she saw was a blinding light. The last thing she saw was Maddy and her friends emerging out of the cover of the woods.
2 years later
Carl was leaping around the field like a madman, chasing a blue-winged black-spotted butterfly. Melody and Maddy were laughing, each drinking their sparkling waters (Melody liked strawberry while Maddy loved key lime). They talked about how Michael slipped on the banana peel that time in the cafeteria, and how Leena had bawled like a baby in class because of a paper cut. The last thing they talked about was how neither of them knew what happened that crisp autumn night.
Lost in Blocks
It was a sunny afternoon. A castle was growing in her heart.
Julia slapped the last piece on the wooden castle, causing it to tumble to the floor. “Aw, man! That was the last piece... I’ll have to rebuild it!” Julia exclaimed, picking up a wooden block from the rubble of the oak wood blocks. Her mom daintily walked into the room, with a stern look on her face.
“Julia, come have dinner, please. It’s getting cold.”
“No! I’m not done building my kingdom!”
Julia sighed and placed the block in an empty space, arranging it in a fashionable manner.
Her hands shook as she grabbed another block. She wasn’t sure if her palace was going to fall another time. The castle gradually grew higher and wider, finally becoming a real tower. Julia’s elbow swung and hit bulls-eye into the tower’s base, down it came crashing, blocks flying through the air.
“No... ugh! I’ll have to rebuild it. Again!” Julia whined in anger. She didn’t know why, but she was angry... for the thousandth time in her eight year lifespan, her head started to spin. Forgetting about her fumes, she panicked and scrambled around her room trying to get balanced. Everything spun. She felt as if she was skydiving out of the sky, but really she was just about as foolish as an octopus settling into a cup... she blacked out.
Julia blinked and rubbed her head. She didn’t feel right, not at all. Towers of wooden buildings loomed over her. Had my kingdom grown in the past few hours? She had an odd feeling that overpowered the “This doesn’t feel right” feeling. She felt different. The weird thing was that this seemed a little familiar. She lifted her foot to walk around, but ho! It felt heavier and she immediately dropped it. It was the same for the rest of her body parts. She lifted her foot, and eventually got the hang of it. She started toward the gate, and walked up to a fruit market with her stomach grumbling loudly.
“Hello, can I get a-” Julia asked, feeling around in her pockets. She had no money. She made a concerned face at the cashier, to let her know about her mistake.
She realized the cashier was made out of wood! She had short twin-tails around her shoulders and circle glasses with no lenses.
“It’s ok. I can give you a wapple for free,” the cashier said, handing her a shiny wooden apple that looked like a fusion of a pear and an apple.
“Thanks... but where am I? I’m supposed to be in my room right now, building Barkanther!”
“Barkanther? Why, you are near Barkanther! Actually, you ARE in Barkanther!” The cashier smiled.
Julia’s eyes widened, and she stuttered, “Wait, what? Why am I here then??”
The cashier's eyes widened too. “That means you aren’t a citizen... who are you?” the cashier said nervously. She took a step back and adjusted her glasses carefully.
Julia remembered her tantrum when she had accidentally knocked down the palace. She felt guilty, but good at the same time. The sun shone in her face, and wooden leaves danced in the cooling wind that blew Julia’s soft bark hair. She decided not to worry and focused on attaining this girl’s friendship.
“Hey... listen. I’m no citizen from around here, but I want you to know that I’m kind.” Julia said in her most convincing voice. She was telling the truth, for once. She wasn’t a citizen of Barkanther. She didn’t even know where she was.
“I believe you.... That you aren’t a citizen from here.” Esther said, stepping forward to munch on a wapple.
Esther stepped out of her stand to face Julia, eye to eye. Then she exclaimed, “I can see it by the way you look. Come, come.”
Julia looked around for a moment before following Esther. She spotted some citizens cooking some soft leaves over a lightbulb. Is this what they use to cook? Julia was bewildered, but reluctantly followed Esther down the sidewalk and passed by a few alleys. Their shoes were heavy as stones, and they made ‘clunk’ sounds when they hit the ground. Julia looked down, and was surprised to see that her shoes had turned to wood! Esther gestured to follow her, and Julia continued. Esther stopped at the last one, which was dark and musty with wires hanging from buildings and drips of water hitting the ground. Julia twitched nervously, but followed Esther in. The walls were rusty metal with authentic graffiti scribbled on it with paint. The weird part was this was the only part of the entire kingdom with metal. Julia remembered designing this! Their footsteps echoed and rang in their ears. Esther paused at a sketchy looking wall, and pressed a part of it.
A door slid open in the darkness. Julia expected a whole new world, but they were rudely greeted with a brick wall.
“What...? How did this get here? I don’t remember a brick wall blocking our path.” Esther exclaimed with fear.
Julia pushed against the brick wall, assuming she had super strength. It didn’t budge. “Why don’t we try another way? Maybe there will be a hidden door.” Julia said, shrugging.
They continued along the dark alley, shielding their heads from the droplets of water above them. When they finally reached the end of the alley, Esther stopped and looked around.
“Looks like this is a dead end... and it’s becoming night. Do you think we should head into a building for cover? I am a little worried about that decision.”
“I think it’s time for some rest. Let's head for cover.” Julia turned her head west in the direction of the nearest building.
Esther approached carefully and stroked the door as if it were a kitten.
“I think it’s safe. I don’t feel any vibrations from inside.” Esther mumbled, focusing on the door.
Julia looked around nervously as she heard a rustle. Had something been there? Another rustle, and a door slam. Esther interrupted Julia’s thoughts.
“It’s safe! Come on! it’s pitch black out there.”
Julia and Esther rushed inside and felt a wave of warmth wash over them. Lights flickered on, revealing a comfortable room with two beds and a TV equipped with a smooth black remote. Julia leapt onto the bed and started jumping like a noodle monkey. The bed made slight creaks and was... flexible? Esther grabbed the TV remote and with a slight flick, the TV flickered on, blaring the news.
“Ah, this is nice, don’t you think? After a day of wandering around, we finally get some comfort.” Esther said, relaxing herself on the soft mattress of the luxury back-reliever.
“Don’t you think this is a little weird?” Julia mumbled, but in her safe vault of thoughts. She didn’t want to ruin Esther’s good mood.
“Hey, why don’t you change the channel? News reports are boring.” Julia sighed, flicking her eyes in Esther’s direction.
“Why? We need to listen to the reports, just to be safe...” Esther mumbled, staring back at Julia with a worried expression. Uh oh.
“No offense, but why are you so careful all the time? Why don’t you just sit back and RELAX?!” Julia half-yelled, her arrogance coming back at tsunami speed.
“I-I didn't mean anything! I just want you to know that we could be in danger this very moment!” Esther nearly cried, trying to calm down the mood. Esther was right.
They were in danger. The rustle Julia heard earlier? A little Barkanther boy was scurrying along the wires hanging above the alley, bearing sharp shurikens in his belt, waiting to pounce. He wore a black mask covering his face, with the Japanese words ハザード (Hazard) imprinted on it, and a black T-Shirt with a gray scarf that hung along his shoulder. Brown shorts were his fashion, and he had matted hair with perfectly cut bangs. A white clip in his hair disguised him into the dark and dangerous shadows. His flexible hands and sharp shurikens helped him without leaving a trace or making a sound. A new villain was in Barkanther. A dangerous one.