Our June Flash Contest was based on Creativity Prompt #156, provided by sagacious '20—21 Intern Sage Millen, challenging participants to interview a grandparent/older friend about a memorable moment from their childhood and to write that memory as a first person story. This clever prompt afforded those who participated with the opportunity to get closer to the elderly than ever before, allowing them to literally inhabit the perspective of their interviewee. These submissions followed no similar narrative arc, though each and every one did provide a unique window into various cultures of the past. Submissions ranged from tales of a smoking car radiator stuffed with gum to a mishap with homemade firecrackers in Taiwan to a poetic vignette about a car crash, plus much, much more. Thank you to all who submitted this month; it was a pleasure to read your work.
In particular, we congratulate our Winners and our Honorable Mentions, whose work you can appreciate below.
"4 Blocks" by Katherine Bergsieker, 13, (Denver, CO)
"Nature's Lullaby" by Mariana Del Rio, 12, (Strongsville, OH)
"Still Life in Which Everything is on Fire" by Arishka Jha, 12, (Redwood City, CA)
"A Love that Lasts a Lifetime" by Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11, (Newark, OH)
"Rocket Trouble" by Natalie Yue, 9, (San Carlos, CA)
"My Friend Tommy" by Tilly Marlow, 12, (Bristol, UK)
"The Burning Finger Fix" by Nimay Shah, 11, (Portland, OR)
"The Stubborn Fever" by Nitya Shah, 11, (Portland, OR)
"Across the Fields" by Ava Shorten, 11, (Mallow, ROI)
"The Secret Fruit Patch" by Emily Tang, 12, (Winterville, NC)
Katherine Bergsieker, 13
“No, I know, and then he said...”
“Oh my goodness, really?”
My car is filled with laughter as my friends and I drive home from a baseball game. The sweltering St. Louis heat is unbearable, so we decided to come home early. At sixteen years old, I recently received my driver’s license (!), and though inexperienced, I am perfecting my driving skills in our neon orange station wagon.
“Alice, I swear I told him that I wasn’t interested..” And soon we were all cracking up, howling with the laughter that comes with hanging out with your two best friends.
Tears slipping out of my eyes, we manage to squeak like mice and then choke, causing us to laugh harder. The only things around me are my friends and the aged leather seats of my car.
Suddenly, bang!! The force of something harder than life, harder than death, harder than I could ever possibly imagine, pushes me out of my seat belt. Tumbling to the bottom of my car, I am down by the gas pedal, crumpled like a rag doll.
The laughter stops, and for a moment it is so quiet you could hear a fraction of a pin drop. “What was that?” I whisper, and peer up from above the driver’s seat. I’m ready to make accusations—who did this, what happened to my car, what even is this? And then I realize it’s no one's fault but my own.
I step out of my car and see the hood of my beautiful, loaned car smashed against a cherry red convertible. “The... c-c-ar is...” I can’t bring myself to acknowledge the destruction of my annihilated car lying in front of me.
“Sarah? Alice? Can you come out of there?”
Slowly, each of my friends emerge from the car, gasp, and shudder. Finding her ground quickly, Sarah asks, “Is anything broken?”
My eyes scan over the car and over the engine and over a piece of metal jutting out from the side. Wait. What? I kneel down and examine the radiator (my driver’s ed class made me memorize all the parts of a car). It’s full of holes. The force from the car accident caused my radiator to tear.
“Radiator’s torn,” is all I have to say for Alice, the world-record holder in gum chewing, to get an idea.
She hands us each two packs of gum. “Chew.”
She spits hers out and gently places it in a hole in the radiator. “Look... we can have the gum patch the hole.”
“Why do we need to patch the hole in the first place?” Sarah asks.
“We have no other way of getting home,” I reply, the gravity of the situation dawning on me.
Soon after sorting out all of the insurance issues with the convertible driver, we’re all chewing gum and patching the holes... first 5 pieces, then 20, then 50. Little wads of pink gooiness stick to the burning, broken radiator.
Once we’re ready to start driving, I hop into the driver’s seat and press the gas pedal.
I thought it wouldn’t work. I wasn’t half wrong. I thought we were screwed. I wasn’t half wrong. But I was wrong about thinking that it wouldn’t work. Because it did. In a way.
The engine whirls to life and we cautiously begin the wild trek back home. The gum serves as a patch and oh my goodness, it actually works.
Until we remember that radiators get hot to the touch as they work.
So anything on the radiator at the time would melt. Newton would be proud. Alice is not. We stop and chew more gum. Sarah stays optimistic. I face the trepidation of knowing how my parents will react to our childish idea to patch a radiator with gum.
Advance 4 blocks, add more gum. 4 more, more gum. When my house finally comes into sight, I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Lily Smith! What a disgrace! What happened to you?” my mom calls from the porch, looking up from her knitting.
I exchange knowing glances with Sarah and Alice before hopping out of the car. The radiator, and the gum, and the car accident, and the laughter, and how while it was horrible, it was kind of sort of barely worth it.
“Well you know how Alice loves gum, right....”
Mariana Del Rio
Maria shoved Kamila out of the way, knocking her onto the pavement. Kamila breathed in sharply as the rough ground opened up cuts on her palms and knees. “Dios mio,'' she mumbled, and she shook gravel off of her forearms. “You’ll never catch it!” she called to Maria who was now off the sidewalk and dashing into the seagrape trees. She disregarded Kamila’s comment—the fact that it had shown up on her patio was a sign, she thought, so she chased into the middle of the grove. “Ven aqui, coqui...”she whispered to the area around her, but it was no use. The grass and leaves had camouflaged the tiny reptile. Maria sighed and turned around to run back home when she heard a small call coming from the inside of a curved grape leaf.
“Ko—” the call seemed to echo through the trees.
Maria smiled quietly.
It was such a beautiful sound.
She took a deep breath and crept closer to the tree, trying to find exactly what leaf it was on. The sun revealed a small silhouette of a frog on one of the widest leaves. Its minuscule body was puffing up at each croak.
Silence. Maria waited for it to complete its song.
“Ko-Kee—” She lunged forward and yanked at the leaf. She held it in her dark, sweaty hands.
“It’s okay, Coqui. You will find our house muy bonito.” She trotted happily out of the grove. She had her hands cracked open ever so slightly so she could see the wet, yellow frog.
The smooth marble porch cooled her bare feet as Maria pushed open the yellow pastel door of her house. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping for them to open to a plate of hot empanadas on the kitchen island, but instead, Abuelita, along with Maria’s parents, were huddled in front of Papa’s computer. In the reflection of Abuelita’s round, smudged glasses, she could see a small reflection of a building.
“Papá? Que está haciendo la abuelita aquí?...What is Grandma doing here?” Something deep in her stomach crawled to her throat. Papa came up to Maria and took her to the living room. He told her that they were moving.
To New York.
Everything else in the conversation was drowned out. After Maria’s tears stopped rolling down her red face, she went to her room and slammed the door so hard it shook the small house.
It was night by now, and Maria continued to wipe her puffy eyes. She buried her face in her pillow, then began to hear a clash of guitars, maracas, and howling from the window. Her neighbors across the road loved to play on these nights, and their chihuahuas loved to sing along.
Eventually, their music came to an end. Maria opened her window to let the midnight wind hit her tear-streaked face, hoping it would calm her down. It whistled through her ears and the palm trees, their big, wide leaves brushing against each other, seeming to keep the beat of a lost song that drifted away in the breeze. The dark waves crashed against rocks from the harbor and washed onto the beach as white foam. Even though she couldn't see the harbor from her window, she could hear it all around her. Occasionally the shriek of a screech owl could be heard deep within the trees. Maria knew that the Song wasn’t over just yet; the star had yet to arrive. It was a quiet little croak that only those who were truly listening could hear. The call echoed through the night. The sound kept time to the music. Then another croak joined in, and then another. Maria tapped her fingers on the windowsill, and just for a moment, all her problems had faded away. This nature’s lullaby was what put her to sleep every night.
Then it dawned on Maria: she would never hear it again.
Two years later, New York City
Maria had finished her midnight snack; her mom’s quesitos. She heard clashes of car horns, revving engines, and millions of conversations at once. Maria had gotten used to the constant buzzing day in and day out and found that she quite enjoyed it. Maria opened her family’s apartment balcony to let the midnight wind hit her content face. The wind whistled through her ears, and by the construction site of a new building, every mechanical whirr and clank seemed to keep the beat of a lost song that drifted away in the air. People in the apartments around her were cooking, watching the news, and discussing every small detail of what had happened in their lives. She couldn’t see inside every room from her window, but, somehow, she could hear it all around.
Occasionally a raven or crow would fly by. Maria knew that the song wasn’t over just yet; the star had yet to arrive. She brought out her (new) phone, and found her downloaded MP3, and pressed play.
It was a quiet little croak that only those who were truly listening could hear. The call echoed through the night. The sound kept time to the music. Then another croak joined in, and then another. Maria tapped her fingers on the windowsill and, just for a moment, all her problems faded away. This, nature’s lullaby, was what put her to sleep every night. It might not have been what it once was, but it was always there.
Still Life in Which Everything is on Fire
Arishka Jha, 12
The earth begins to splinter in late summer. The last beams of sunlight prickle through a rose-colored river like cracks along the crystalline surface of a window. The humid wind tremolos louder than our car’s stalled engine as the tires turn, grinding at a metacarpal slab of rock. I grasp the edge of my seat, and try to hold on to something tangible as the car tilts, positioned precariously at the edge of the road.
The mountain towers over all of us. It reminds me of an ancient, unfinished sculpture; its chiseled crevices are ornate in between masses of shadowy stone. Silhouettes swarm the open space between our car and the dented beige one in front of us, vaguely forgettable and uncolored. It is as if we can only see fleeting glimpses of what is happening through hazy visions of reality.
My limbs are paralyzed and my eyes are omnipotent. Minutes pass. Warm blood streams down the side of my head and shines against the sheet of broken, spiderwebbed glass that blankets the road. I reach for a hand, something human, and turn to check on the rest of my family. The chaos is subsiding. We open the heavy doors and trudge to the side of the road. The frame of our car clashes against the vine-covered road and the clouds cling overhead, no longer distorted and unreal.
A Love that Lasts a Lifetime
Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11
Something was poking into my eyelids. I tried to shrug it off. The sheer exhaustion from the previous nights made my limbs feel numb. Sleepily, I realized that it was the harsh undaunted sunlight streaming through the open window. I rolled over and stared at the tired sleeping face next to me, and the ruthlessness of yesterday weighed down on my heart. Looking at her sweet innocent face, I wanted her to sleep a little longer and not wake up just yet.
When I first laid my eyes on Lolita, a frail twenty-two year old nervously clutching the conch seashell that so many Indian brides had grasped before her, my naive, envious mind despised her. My heart told me that she was stealing my older brother Hemant from me. As time went on, I reluctantly played board games with Lolita on the sunny veranda. Her long, luxuriant braid and tinkling laugh infused our cozy hundred-year-old house in West Bengal. Whenever her shy, kind smile and merry demeanor pulled me in, I remembered how she made my brother burst into peals of laughter, slowly becoming his new “best friend,” and I inched backwards a little bit. Hemant would sigh at my behavior, but the lingering smile sneaking on his lips showed me that he was never truly irritated. Hemant always had a secret goal to bring the two of us together. He was the schoolteacher in our small town and he taught me how to read at a time and age in rural India when girls weren’t very welcome at schools. He told me that his bright-eyed Lolita had a quick mind, and that I should teach her how he once taught me when I was just a kid. I begrudgingly agreed to teach Lolita, though I never told Hemant that he was right. In a few fleeting months, Lolita was almost completely fluent and I felt resentful about how quickly she had learned. Everything was preconceived in my nineteen-year old-mind, and though I was only a few years younger then her, I told myself that I was a wild child while she was overly dainty. We both loved to curl up in a corner with a book, but I liked adventures and mystery, while Lolita wanted to learn more about the real world around her. We had nothing in common, or so I thought.
Five years later, in March of 1974, we were looking forward to another beautiful spring in our tropical lush surroundings. However, life got in our way. Our kind elderly gardener’s son came one day to tell us that his father had died of a mysterious illness, which later came to be known as small pox. A mere four days later, we got the news that the disease didn't spare the gardener’s son either. What began as a trickle soon became a pounding, heavy thunderstorm of lives lost. We all began to fear the lethal disease that caused a red rash all over the body and a high spiking fever. The town doctor barely ever slept, and the neighborhood was frenzied with wild panic. Those days, Hemant was like an angel. He fluttered to and from the house, always wanting to do anything he could to help. One day, he came home from the school feeling feverish and dizzy. After a long difficult week, Hemant’s condition worsened and his fever persisted. Lolita and I nursed him day and night, and I knew that we both felt sick from the ailment. It had weakened our bodies as well, but the throbbing pain inside our hearts was way stronger. Tired to our bones, we held on to each other for comfort as the long days turned to endless nights, praying and hoping that his fever would break. I will forever remember the look on her beautiful drawn face when I ran and hugged her in the dusty kitchen knowing that our worst nightmare had come true.
Hemant had always tried to find the one thing that connected the two of us, but all along it had been him. We have both loved and lost the one person who mattered the most. We leaned on each other and learned to laugh with our eyes again. Over the years, we became kindred spirits, inseparable best friends. Lolita did end up marrying again, and I became her kids’ favorite aunt. Eventually, we could laugh together about Hemant’s old eccentricities, which made great storytelling sessions with our grandkids without feeling the sorrow overwhelming our hearts. We had become sisters, with a love that lasts a lifetime.
Natalie Yue, 9
The small, humid Taiwanese village where we lived was hidden within lush green trees and bushes, surrounding the dilapidated homes and businesses. Rain showered the countryside, at times soaking into battered gutters; it was a tropical climate, after all.
I lived in a tiny house with a red, tiled clay roof, bamboo and plaster walls, plus the largest backyard the world had ever seen. There were large mango trees with juice trickling down the mangos, the fragrant smell wafting through the air. There were sweet guavas shaped like green moons dangling from leafy trees—our garden had them all. There were so many trees, in fact, you could swing from one to another like eager monkeys (however, I found out this activity was dangerous the moment my older brother attempted to swing from one tree to another and dislocated his elbow).
Our house was like a hectic night market. I had two older and two younger brothers, and two sisters—one older and one younger. The house was always packed with children screaming and dashing about the place. In fact, there were so many people that the older children sometimes slept in one large bed, while the younger children slept with our parents.
In our village, nothing thrilling ever occurred, except around the holidays. Nor were there any toys or games to fiddle with. There were no movies to watch, no parks to frolic at, no puzzles to solve, and no sports to play. My brothers, sisters and I often entertained ourselves by chasing the screaming chickens in our backyard (Caw! Caw!) or darting around catching the ducks (Quack! Quack!).
Father listened intently to the radio as I returned from the backyard a few nights following Chinese New Year. My siblings and I had played a good game of “Loose Animals,” which caused your hands to turn the color of our dogs: a grubby brown. Nevertheless, it had been a great day.
The radio continued babbling on as I settled down (after I was strictly told to go wash my slimy hands). To me, radio programs weren’t things that got you all enthusiastic, but this day, it actually captured my attention.
“...right after Chinese New Year, several people report leftover firecrackers...not a surprise...we all know Chinese New Year is firecracker time, ah, but plenty of crackers are neglected on the dusty roads...’m, there’s no blam’n’ anyone since it’s hard to see at night...”
A vague idea shaped in my brain as I thought hard about firecrackers. I always enjoyed seeing the rockets launched into the air and explode in a shower of color at Chinese New Year. Perhaps I, only a six-year-old—well, technically six and a quarter—could construct and launch my own rocket? My intention—if it worked—would be to have it fly with loud, showy booms into the air, and explode in a crack of color. I saw it now. I’d be famous, and set the record for the youngest person to build and test a successful rocket. People would crowd around our house till late, late hours, wanting to snap photos of the boy who created an unbelievable rocket.
Our house was not only a night market, but also a landfill. Thick paper, tape, sweet potato glue, ribbon and paint splatters were scattered in every direction. There were several slabs of thick paper I had been saving in my closet for crafts, which I took for the main body of my rocket. I curled the cardboard up to form a perfect cylinder, and taped the ends together with the strongest tape I could find.
Now for the pointy part. I absolutely needed the pointy part, which every good rocket included. Father had taught me how to create a paper cone for a geometry unit, so using scraps of paper and tape I made the rocket head. Then, the rocket body and head were strapped together with resistant glue.
Using all my origami skills, I attached simple paper feet to my rocket, looking a bit like a frog's webbed toes. The rocket seemed stabilized on its two paper feet, so I moved onto the next step.
Now I needed the powder from firecrackers. I peered through every corner and crook of the house, finding a dozen. I crept back to my room and scooped powder into my rocket. I held my nose as I worked, because the powder smelled of ash and smoke. Ewww.
It was time to sneak incense (I would have to be particularly careful to avoid being caught). Our family had a home altar, where we prayed to our ancestors. It was really spooky down in the altar, as if evil ghosts were creeping up on me. But if I were going to receive fame, I’d have to be courageous.
The home altar had two flickering sticks of incense, grave and still. I snuck into the eerie room, which was dimly lit. It was like walking through an abandoned dungeon. After grasping the red sticks, I crept back upstairs and summoned my curious younger brother and sister. We were ready to test.
Thankfully our house wasn’t very tall, so my brother, sister and I clambered up a tall guava tree (careful with the incense, I thought), and jumped onto the roof. I held my breath and set my rocket on the highest point of the rooftop, and lit the rocket.
A mixture of anxiety, fear, and excitement boiled inside me as we stepped back. Here was the moment of fame! The rocket began to shake furiously, and little sparks of fire issued from the body. My siblings began squealing all over the roof, and I had to drag them away from the edges so they wouldn’t fall like dominoes.
Unfortunately, my rocket didn’t perform like the rocket I had pictured in my mind. It didn’t even jerk up into the air one inch, and I realized this was a horrible idea once the rocket let out a deafening BOOM! My siblings covered their ears with their hands, as smoke began to billow behind us.
“Our house is going to burn!” My little sister moaned. She trembled from head to toe, but gave me a fiery glare.
“Uh...” I examined the roof, which to my great relief, wasn’t on fire. However, spirals of smoke were coming from the rocket. Uh-oh. This would just make our parents suspicious, and what about the incense? Slowly, I scooped up the remaining pieces of my rocket, which now only consisted of a few paper scraps and curling tape. It was a disaster.
We climbed down the roof dejectedly (well at least I did—my sister and brother seemed angry) and snuck into the house.
“Mama...” my little sister wailed as we entered the living room.
“You keep quiet,” I hissed at my siblings, knowing they were great tattletales. They pressed their lips shut, meekly obeying me. That was why being an older sibling was highly beneficial.
Our parents never found out about the “little adventure” I had created. But from that day on, whenever people launched firecrackers on Chinese New Year, I always felt a sly grin spread across my face.
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