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Flash Contest #22: Write a Story About a Unifying Place

Maybe this is a coffee shop where a regular group of writers share their work, or a church where folks go to practice their religion. Simply explore how these people are unified, and why.

For our last in the current series of weekly flash contests, entrants were inspired by another terrific prompt by Stone Soup reader and contributor Liam Hancock, 13. Liam asked you to write about a unifying place–and it was fascinating so see how you interpreted this. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of you thoughts of bookshops, libraries and favourite reading corners as your place of unity, comfort and companionship; others came up with a stunning range of locations they love for the people and the activities that take place in them. We read some beautiful writing this week, and are delighted to share the work of our winners with you on this page. Congratulations to all of them, and to our Honorable Mentions.

I walk the path I have walked many times by Morgan Dodd, 13, Portland, Oregon
Waiting For Camp by Selina Lai, 10, Dublin, CA
The Warehouse by Daniel Wei, 13, Weddington, NC
Hope by April Yu, 12, East Brunswick, NJ
Cinema by Annie Yu, 11, Great Neck, NY

Honorable Mention
Ireland by Stella Mae Cobb, 11, Norfolk, CT
There are many like you! by Aashitha Jeyaganesh, 10, Edison, NJ
The Library by Jason Liu, 11, Sharon, MA
The Whales in the Metro Station by Kyler Min, 9, Vienna, VA
The Bookworms by Ella Wan, 9, North Oaks, MN

Please note that our Flash Contest will continue through the end of the year, but now that school is back in session we will be holding it once a month, instead of every week. The weekly prompt on the first Monday of every month will be the subject of the contest, and you will have until noon PST on the following Sunday to submit your entries–we are giving you a little more time than before, as we know you have more on with school!

Morgan Dodd, 13
Portland, OR

I walk the path I have walked many times

Morgan Dodd, 13

I walk the path I have walked many times. Behind the abandoned seven eleven parking lot, and deep into the woods. My hands brush the thorn bushes that used to bring us so much pain. The creek that I used to be able to swim in. And finally I arrive at my destination, the fort that me and only the closest of my friends built. It was quite the site. Three long summer years filled with long days of work led to arguably the most impressive fort. From the outer walls riddled with holes, to the grand treehouse in the middle of our little city we built ourselves, to the elevated fighting platform where we settled our disputes. The same place the accident happened. I start to see some of my friends arrive, all dressed appropriately for the occasion. I am now passing the walls and now I am at what they called the central hall, even though it was fully exposed to the elements. I finally arrive at the meeting place where a few members of our group are standing over a tree. All of them are dressed in black and have their head lowered. Underneath them is a picture of a boy, and under that a body of a boy. The memories come
rushing back to me.

A serious argument had broken out that day. I was in the treehouse finishing up one of the bedrooms, when I started to hear shouting from beneath me. Two of our members, Kyle and Chad were arguing over something, I could not tell what at the time. All I knew was that they were very enraged with each other, to the point that they were going to settle their dispute on the fighting platform. Now, the fighting platform has some distinct rules: no kicking, no weapons, and especially no pushing due to the fact that it was a pretty big fall–about 6 feet.

Everyone was gathered on the ground or on the poorly-made benches surrounding the ring. There is where I learned the spark of this conflict. Chad had convinced Kyle's girlfriend to leave him and date Chad. There was a lot of passion behind this fight, and it showed. Kyle began to swing wildly at Chad while Chad was trying his best to dodge the blows. Chad was able to see a weakness in Kyle's wild attacks and was able to nail him directly in the mouth. In a fit of rage Kyle charged at Chad and sent Chad careening off the platform. Chad landed in the worst way possible, on his neck. He wasn't getting up. The ambulance was called, and so were the police. Chad and Kyle were both taken away. So was our fort. The authorities said it was no longer safe. That was the end of our time here.

Except recently our fort has made a comeback on the anniversary of the accident. Chad's family asked to bury his body under the fort's treehouse, for it's the thing he loved most in life. Everyone decided to come together, and commemorate his death, and everyone is here placing flowers under the tree.

Selina Lai, 10
Dublin, CA

Waiting For Camp

Selina Lai, 10

Adeline bit her lip nervously and wrung her hands. She sighed loudly, leaned forward, and closely examined all the cracks and grooves on her nails. When are they going to be here? She thought impatiently. She briskly tucked her books of stamps into her pocket, careful not to let others see her precious collection that she held close to her heart.

Her father had cheerfully introduced her to stamp-collecting a few years ago, but now he had stopped after getting fired from his job. Now he had to attend job interviews frequently. Her mother didn’t understand the importance of her stamps (she would constantly refer to them as “useless” and a “time-waster”), and spent much of her time fretting about money anyway, so there was nobody in her family who wanted to see the fascinating stamps she had collected anymore. Her family was acting so worried and distant. Now, stamp-collecting had become not just a hobby, but one of her only comforts.

But she had found a friend named Nicole in middle school that was just as enthusiastic as her when it came to interesting and beautiful stamps. Then, she introduced Adeline to a bunch of her other friends (Gemma, Serenity, and Harper), who all were eager stamp-collectors. They had gotten along together so well that they decided to make their own club and meet after school in the Rolling Hills Middle School library. And at that moment, Adeline was starting to doubt that they actually remembered that promise. Maybe they had just been lying and didn’t really like stamps, and were just pretending to be her friend. Her palms erupted into a cold sweat. What if that’s true? She wondered grimly, lacing her hands together and placing them on the smooth, glossy table.

The library door leisurely creaked open. Suddenly, those sad thoughts seemed far away. Adeline jumped up excitedly and ran to hug her friends, who were awkwardly standing in the doorway.

Nicole’s mouth split into a wide, sunny smile. “Hi, Adeline!”

Serenity and Harper happily high-fived her and blurted out the latest news from their classes. Gemma, who was kind of shy, waved bashfully at Adeline and sat down at a circular table.

“Okay, okay,” Adeline started, “I got a really cool one!”

She pulled out her book of stamps, flipped to a page, and pulled a small stamp from a clear plastic pocket. She had been saving this one for weeks especially for her friends to look at for a fun surprise. It had quickly become the star of her collection and her greatest pride. Nicole, Gemma, Serenity, and Harper peered closer, focusing on the elegant image.

It was an intricately drawn image of butterfly with outspread wings the soothing yellow color of butter, accented by bright blue markings that stood out. The butterfly was surrounded by a golden circle with pretty embellishments that glinted under the artificial lights on the school library’s ceiling.

Adeline’s friends wholeheartedly complimented her stamp and shared some of their own.

After many meetings like this, Adeline got more and more used to the library’s calming aesthetic. Her fears and worried were put aside at the mention of a “Stamp Collectors Club” meeting. Slowly but surely, she felt the library turning into a second home.

Daniel Wei, 13
Weddington, NC

The Warehouse

Daniel Wei, 13

My dad drops me off in front of the old, square building, made with gray brick. I swing open the silver door and take off my backpack. “Hello!” my robotics coach calls. It is the day before our scrimmage against another team, and we are at our warehouse to practice.

I stand next to Robert and adjust my goggles. As usual, I’m the last one there. It’s a cold winter day, and I am thankful that I wore my hoodie. The warehouse is sparse and drafty, with empty iron shelves lining the walls. A dim yellow light is the only source of illumination. However, it is the place I am most at home, having come here for robotics expos and scrimmages since I was 9. I look around. All of my friends are standing next to each other, near the back wall. Their warm expressions contrast with the icy room.

A large square marked by blue masking tape is in the center of the floor. There are yellow foam balls scattered throughout the square that our robot has to pick up and throw into a hoop. Our robot is small, but the shooting power of its arm makes up for it.

“Alright, drive team, I need you in the field.” Shlok, Andrew, Robert, and Christopher step up to the blue square. “The rest of you, go fill out the registration form. Be sure to come back when you are done.”

I sit down on the hard concrete floor, next to Juliet, my closest friend and confidante. I pull out my computer. Normally, we would be talking about Asian life, but today, only the eerie echo of mechanical sounds can be heard. It seems that everyone shares my nervous mood. The team we are scrimmaging against is highly seeded.

I pull up the form quickly on my computer and fill in my name, our team number (18175), and my contact information. Closing it, I head over to where the drive team is practicing.

Andrew greets me first, with a worried look in his eyes. “The code is glitching. Mrs. Karen said to revise the Engineering Notebook (EN) while we troubleshoot.”

I go back and relay the news to Juliet, Lucas, and Victoria. Juliet puts her head in her hands and Lucas starts to groan. Only Victoria remains sanguine. “Cheer up guys, let’s work on the EN while we wait for them to fix it!” I give Victoria–undeniably the glue that holds our team together–a thumbs up. And I know this warehouse is the one place where we can work together to accomplish our goals.

I immerse myself in writing. I lead the documentation sub-group, and the EN is our ultimate log, the one the judges will see. Humming to myself, I soon forget about the code issue. Finally, when all of the documentation has been finished, I sigh and lean back.

Finally, Christopher walks over to where we are sitting. “Come watch,” he commands, and we follow. The robot dodges through the maze of balls, picks one up, and throws it straight into the hoop. We cheer, jumping up and down, our screams echoing from corner to corner.

Later, as we prepare to leave, I turn to everyone and say, “I’m so pumped for this scrimmage tomorrow! We got this!!!” Everyone starts screaming again. Finally, my dad’s black car pulls up, and I wave goodbye to the friendly old warehouse, thankful for a place where our team can collaborate, problem-solve, and have fun.

April Yu, 12
East Brunswick, NJ


April Yu, 12

The hunk of bread was hard as stone beneath my hands. Rotting meat, vegetables, and pastries emitted a sickly-sweet smell from underneath me. My stomach churned violently, but I had no choice. It was either this or waiting out on the streets for coins people never seemed to be able to spare. So I hunched over, gritted my teeth, and rifled through the trash can.

At last, my hand flitted over something solid and thin. There, as if it’d been waiting for me, sat a plastic water bottle. I snatched it up ravenously and shoved it under my arm. Then I turned back to the trash can.

“Hola, young lady. Looking for somewhere to deposit that?”

I turned around, startled, and there stood a sallow-faced man, pointing at my bottle. He reeked of sour milk and his clothes had seen better days, but he was smiling at me. As if I were his friend.

Disdain jolted through me, even though I knew I had nothing to back it up. By the looks of my ratty outfit and wild eyes, we were in the same boat. Homeless. Cast out. Hungry.

But it hadn’t been long since I was one of the higher-class girls who had everything. Hundreds of wardrobes bursting with finery. Parties in the ballroom every other day. A rich daddy who liked spoiling me—until his company fell and we were blotted out of history, left to fend for ourselves.

I’d lost fifteen pounds since then. Now, my clothes weren’t matching. Dirt caked my too-small shoes. I was pawing through people’s trash for plastics to exchange for money. I’d take any help I could get.

“Yes,” I said.

He pointed down the street. “Down there, there’s a store called Rip Van Winkle—they’ll accept yer bottles.”

I looked at him and suddenly felt like crying. Though it would probably take away from him, the man was helping me. Me, of all people. Shallow and ungrateful and—I inhaled shakily.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

The man’s gnarled face contorted into a smile. “Now, now. If you ever need more help, just call on us, si?”

Us? I thought. And that’s when I saw silhouettes moving behind him.

I stifled a whimper. What seemed like a legion of women, men, and children were walking out from the man’s shadow. The stench in the air immediately heightened. Their fingernails were chipped, their faces forlorn, their skin grayish. They. . . looked like me.

“Hello,” I gasped, bracing myself for animosity. But what came next shocked me. They all smiled. Smiled, like I was one of them. Smiled, though I’d done nothing for them. A little girl, her features too big for her face, said matter-of-factly,

“Us homeless have to stick together. Yer part of our family now.”

The man nodded at me. “If you need us, just say the word ‘home,’ and we’ll be there.” A wistful look slipped onto their faces, and they disappeared back into the shadows.

I stared after them, hardly able to process what had just happened.

Then, almost as if I were programmed to do it, I looked up into the evening sky, at the mansions in the distance. Pink and purple reflected off the stained-glass windows. Several turrets, fashioned from pure silver and gold, boasted each owner’s riches.

Garish. Obtrusive. Ignorant.

Everything I used to be.

It suddenly occurred to me that I should’ve given my one bottle, however measly, to the others. It was the least I could’ve done. Frantically, I turned around, but they had vanished without a trace.

I felt myself slipping. Maybe the people had never existed. Maybe this was just a dream, and I would wake up in the luxury of my canopy bed at home. I closed my eyes, ready to succumb.

But when I blinked them open again, all I saw was that dumb, gray trash can.

Everything that had happened to me rolled through my body like a tidal wave. I felt myself shattering. Blurred images swiped through my head: a girl wearing a gossamer ballgown, standing atop a hill in a brilliant sunset; and then a faded girl in rags, choking from the smog in the air. No matter how much I tried, the two images wouldn’t coexist in my head. The two me’s couldn’t be together.

This was the cold reality.

But then I felt the bottle bumping my arm. Hysterical, I pulled it out. It was slimy, and caked in dirt, and who knows what else. But it somehow comforted me.

It was more than just a bottle to me now. It was hope. Hope that those people had existed. Hope that the storm inside would pass. Hope that, if I could ever live comfortably again, I would remember these times and appreciate what I had.

So I hugged the bottle to my chest, took one last glance at the sun-kissed mansions, and walked down the street to Rip Van Winkle’s.

Annie Yu, 11
Great Neck, NY


Annie Yu, 11

If you enter this place, you could see long lines of people waiting to hand the ticket-checker their ticket. Bright lights are hung around the room and with all the excitement and action, it almost looks like the lights are dancing around the ceiling, like stars on the night sky. The entire room is carpeted with a red
velvet rug almost like a blanket of snow covering the ground. Then you notice the staircase. Each step leads you to an entrancing place, where you can travel to anytime and anywhere around the world. Finally, your foot lifts off the last step and you come face to face with a golden door, where someone welcomes you in. You push open the door and are enveloped into darkness. There is laughter and chatter from kids, children, and grownups. You sit down on one of the seats in the middle row and lean back as the cool air conditioning brushes past your skin. At last, the red curtains sway open in such a way, that the entire audience becomes silent and rapt with anticipation. Grand music fills the place. Glorious music, powerful music, melancholy music, and any type you can think of. You are immediately brought into the scenes, enjoying each and every bit of it. All your thoughts drift away, and you are taken into a dream, where what you wish you see and meet starts happening right in front of you. However, you have awoken from the dream and the show has ended. The audience begin to clap and cheer, and you find yourself doing it as well. Although the performance ended, and the curtains closed, the sound of the clapping is still going. You're happy that you've been part of this adventure and that you had let yourself be brought into the action. It makes you feel as if you had been communicating with something or someone without ever speaking up. You're glad that you can relate to every person in the audience and that feeling makes you feel that you are not alone and that there is always someone out there who has the same thoughts as you and can connect with you. You walk out the auditorium feeling refreshed and happy. Once you leave the building, you look up at the night sky and find the bright yellow stars sparkling. Then all the memories flow back to you, the lights in the room, the spiraling staircase, and the amazing performance and dream you had witnessed a few moments ago. The stars form a path and lead you back home slowly.


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