Our July Flash Contest was based on Creativity Prompt #160—provided by Jane Levi, Stone Soup Director—which challenged participants to choose one proverb from a list of five ( “A stitch in time saves nine,” “The early bird catches the worm," “A problem shared is a problem halved,” “A leopard cannot change its spots,” or “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”), and write a story in which the opposite was true. As we have come to expect from our brilliant participants, the individuality, creativity, and outright quality of the work was breathtaking. Stories ranged from humorous to serious to heartbreaking, taking us on journeys to the animal kingdom, the times of Greek myth, a college campus, and much, much more! In fact, the breadth of quality apparent in this month's submissions was so great that we selected two stories—"The Early Bird May Catch the Worm, but it Is Never Too Late to Get in the Game" by Phoenix Crucillo and "A Vacation, an Idiom, and a Wedding" by Joyce Hong—to be published on the blog at a forthcoming date. As always, thank you to all who submitted, and please submit again next month!
In particular, we congratulate our Winners and our Honorable Mentions, whose work you can appreciate below.
"Mortal Complex" by Arishka Jha, 12 (Redwood City, CA)
"The Early Bird Doesn't Get the Worm" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 9 (Brooklyn, NY)
"Absence Makes the Heart Grow Bitter" by Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11 (Newark, OH)
"A Trifle Shared Is... Big Trouble" by Daniel Shorten, 10 (Mallow, ROI)
"Weighing Threads" by Eliya Wee, 11 (Menlo Park, CA)
"Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder—or Not!" by Sinan Li, 11 (Allendale, NJ)
"All for a Root Beer Latte" by Yutia Li, 12 (Houston, TX)
"In Which Later Is Better" by Serena Lin, 10 (Scarsdale, NY)
"How the Leopard Changed His Spots (with Apologies to Rudyard Kipling) by Ava Shorten, 11 (Mallow, ROI)
"7 Days" by Chloe Yang, 12 (Cranbury, NJ)
Chosen for the Stone Soup Blog
"The Early Bird May Catch the Worm, but it Is Never Too Late to Get in the Game" by Phoenix Crucillo, 12 (Los Angeles, CA)
"A Vacation, an Idiom, and a Wedding" by Joyce Hong, 11 (Oakville, Ontario, CA)
Arishka Jha, 12
The oldest of us left the town, but we liked to pretend that she was exiled. That it was us, the pulsing insides of our city, who drove her away.
She arrived a few winters ago when the air was silvery and translucent for weeks and we were ten. That afternoon, we knelt inside our thicket of branches and saw the black tires of her compact car eat at the road in front of us. No one had moved here in years, and we knew no better than to imagine that anyone who did would be deadly.
We didn’t know who the visitor was until she held a match to the ivory fences the next night and we watched them metamorphose until the embers flitted through space, moths to a growing flame. She reminded us of a bird from afar, with fragile sand-coloured wrists, eyes that were more raven than brown, and dark hair that pinwheeled down to her fingertips. She wore a long charcoal coat and iridescent shoes that flooded with sunlight. Up close she was less of a hummingbird and more of a buzzard or hawk, a bird of prey. When we asked, she told us that her name was something strange, Blue or Cyan. We thought it wasn’t a real name at first. If she had lied and said that her name was something more like ours, less pure, maybe we would have feared her presence more.
“What’s that blue person doing?” the smallest of us said, forehead pressed to the foggy window. It was unnatural. The fences kept us safe, and we knew that they surrounded us like the walls of a greenhouse so that we could grow poisonous and contagious.
“Burning it down, what else?”
“There's a reason we have it. It makes no sense.”
It made no sense to the rest of us either, so we asked her why. She said our town was too isolated. Being so removed from the outside world had made us feral and invasive and she would save us. And that no, her name was Indigo.
Everyone in our neighborhood used to insist that we weren’t old enough to use matches, but we knew that they were scared, scared that these feral children were like lightning: too unpredictable and charged to last long.
Two years of nuclear skies and twisted secrets had passed by until Indigo left, and by that time, she was an idol to us. She was silver and astral in a dark, short-lived way, and we had thought she saved us until the last moment.
The day before she ran away, we convinced her to take us into the forest. It was a gray place, rife with woven roots, overgrown grass patches, and yew pines. She told us that the natural world was beautiful, a blessing, while we hid underneath a tree behind her and fashioned fish scales and hummingbird bones into necklaces. Hours passed like a battle—victory, violence, and defeat compressed into simple blows. We wondered how those lifeless parts could infuse into one and create a body capable of both destruction and construction, futility and power.
She left the next morning, and we took enough solace in the fact that we were the only ones who truly knew who she was before they all worshipped her. After all, her leaving made everything less messy. We used to be second in command, then we became first. Even so, we still felt forsaken. Our town’s lifeblood was history and rewriting it was the ultimate coup de grâce, a checkmate of sorts. We took to it with a scalpel instead of a pen, blanketed our town in dusk and shadow, dreaming ourselves to be holy and any newcomer to be evil. Every day that she was gone, we distorted her into something more inhuman and threatening. As if we could be saved by someone pure and left alone by the same.
The Early Bird Doesn't Get the Worm
Nova Macknik-Conde, 9
Sasha woke early that morning.
“Oh boy,” she thought groggily, “I can’t wait to go to Maya’s house after my science test! Wait... what time is it?”
Fumbling for the space-themed watch beside her cozy bed with My Hero Academia themed blankets, Sasha saw from the lit-up numbers that it was 1:06 in the morning.
“Oh no,” Sasha groaned, rolling onto her back. “Now I’m never going to get back to sleep!”
Sasha stumbled into the living room from the entry door and collapsed on the couch, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Hey, kiddo—woah, are you okay? Are you sick? Was school really that bad?” Dad asked incredulously as he rushed over to her.
Sasha pulled at the piece of paper stuffed in her pocket and handed it wordlessly to Dad. Dad unfolded the teacher’s note just as Sasha passed out from exhaustion.
Images of Dad asking if she was okay and the teacher shaking their head in disappointment swam through Sasha’s head.
“No, no, make it stop, make it stop, please,” Sasha sleep-muttered, tossing and turning all around. Finally, she sat bolt upright, gasping as though she had never taken a breath in her whole lifetime.
“You failed the exam,” her dad said quietly. “Thankfully, though, it was a minor test that’s not going to show up on your grades. But what happened? You studied so hard...”
“I woke up at 1 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and did some more flashcards with my computer,” Sasha answered sadly. “But then during the test I was so tired that I couldn’t remember anything.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. Really. But after coming home, all I remember is... black. What happened?” Sasha wondered aloud, her black hair falling into her brown eyes, her head tilted to the side.
“Apparently, you fainted. From exhaustion. Because you got less than four hours of sleep. So I carried you to your bed.”
“Oh. Well, thank you. If you don’t mind, I’m going to... go back to sleep. Yeah. That’s a good idea.” Sasha replied, her voice muffled as she buried her head into the pillow.
“Okie-dokie then. But next time, just remember that the early bird may be too tired to get the worm,” Dad said, a small smile playing on his lips as he softly closed Sasha’s bedroom door.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Bitter
Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11
I watch my friend Kendall giggle as her dad rumples her curly hair, and the persistent knot of emotions inside me unravels. On the stage for our winter concert, my music is half-hearted and feeble. I cannot ignore the chaos of thoughts ravaging my mind. My eyes bitterly graze over every proud father in the audience. Determined not to cry, I barely get through the concert. As I pack my violin into its velvet case, a voice breaks through the haze. “Olive, do you need a lift?” Kendall’s dad, Mr. Brown, asks kindly, tapping on my shoulder. I couldn’t. I needed some space to deal with my hurting heart. “No, our house isn’t too far away and the snow is pretty much slush right now,” I reply, trying to sound as casual as I can. Before Mr. Brown could utter another word, I had disappeared into the crowd.
As I trudge through the week-old snow on my way back home, I return to the same “what ifs” like an old habit I both love and dread. What if my father had loved us enough to stay? What if his love for my mother had been stronger than his ambition to travel the world with his band? What if he had been the one to teach me the music both of us so passionately love? I see us spending time together and laughing like Kendall and her father do. I picture him bringing home peach roses, which are mom’s favorites, just to make her face light up after a long day. I see Christmases spent huddled together beside the fireplace, with a glorious flocked tree and gifts and my mother laughing once again. As I walk down my block, I fantasize about getting to know my father, about calling him “dad." We are a family, and our house doesn't feel hauntingly empty anymore.
I snap out of my blissful fantasies as my eyes catch the corner of a Christmas card peeking out of our open mailbox. The familiar loopy handwriting on the back of the envelope sharply jabs at my heart. Suddenly I feel so much anger that I begin to shake. Dazed, I find myself darting into our living room, clumsily ripping the envelope open. My mind violent with rage, I stare at the short, frivolous words. I finally give in to the tears pricking at the back of my eyes and furiously throw the card into the flaming hearth. As I silently watch the flickers devouring the charred words, I feel numbed by the pain. How can a father I have never known make me so bitter? Will I ever be able to get past this animosity and be able to trust with a full heart? Will this resentment ever let me be a complete person? My mind goes back to the days when I had peered between the old oak stair balusters, painfully watching my mother in her weaker moments. I remember slipping in behind her and hugging her in the kitchen, our embrace ending in laughter over a pint of Rocky Road ice cream. I sit on the couch and breathe in and out, the cloud of hurt feelings slowly fading. My mind starts to calm down and let go.
Smiling, I make two mugs of hot chocolate and put blankets over the couch. When the front door opens, I call out cheerfully “Hi mom." She smiles absent-mindedly as we get to the living room. “Well, you look happy today,” she says. I drape a blanket around her and hand her a steaming cup brimming with marshmallows. “I was thinking that we might bring out the Christmas tree early and put up some lights,” I say, snuggling up next to her. She beams at me. “I love you so much Mom,” I whisper, awed by how beautiful her face looks in the firelight. My heart will always be a little broken but I will never forget to be grateful for her.
A Trifle Shared Is... Big Trouble
Daniel Shorten, 10
I couldn’t believe I was actually at Edward Graham’s party. First, you need to know something about the Grahams. They were very rich and lived in the fanciest house in our neighbourhood. And Edward’s mum and dad would do anything for their little boy. So, his parties were the best. And I was invited! We all had to make a treat to bring to the party. With (a lot of) help from Mom, I made a trifle with strawberries decorating the top.
At the party, my trifle went down big. Everyone ate it except me. (The unspoken party rule was that you did not eat what you brought yourself.) Alexander, Edward’s little brother, managed to stuff two large slices into his mouth at once. He looked very pleased with himself. Meanwhile, I got to work on the doughnuts, cookies, ice cream and a huge slice of chocolate cake. As I munched my fourth doughnut, I noticed that Melissa, the prettiest girl in the room, had turned somewhat green. A moment later, and accompanied by a loud barfing sound, she threw my trifle up all over the Grahams’ antique oak table. One by one, the guests began to turn purple, yellow, or green before throwing up over themselves and each other. Little Alexander had turned light yellow and was busy emptying the contents of his stomach into his parents’ priceless Chinese vase.
Then it struck me - hardly any of the food had been touched except... The last lonely slice of my trifle sitting guiltily on its plate. Hmm ... had Mom told me to take the strawberries from the fridge or from that plate near the recycling bin?
Eliya Wee, 11
It still hangs there, fluttering like a ghost in the breeze. The faded red embroidery like blood against moth-eaten white silk, pure as snow, unblemished inside the dusty, grimy paint of the house surrounding it.
I am the spinner of fate, weaver of destiny. I spin the future and the past, knotting each thread into a masterpiece. I am called the spinner, the allotter, the unturnable. I myself have loved, have felt pain, have angered. I am ashamed to admit that I myself have once been swayed by mortal emotions. So, I pick up my spindle, casting away my veils, my emotion. I am no longer mortal, no longer swayable, like a forbidding mountain.
She fingers the soft veil, and I watch her do so. Her fingers trace over the blood thread. I must admit that I am immediately intrigued. What mortal would possess such an item? A piece of fate-cloth dropped from my spindle. I measured the thread of life, but I hesitated. My hand broke upon the spindle, staining the thread with blood—the blood of a Moirai. I became mortal that night, just for a moment.
I am the only spinner of fate. I must be the only one. I, who have gathered wisdom beyond my ages, seen through the masks that we put on every day, heard the sound of bloodshed, each cut I fluid, confident, quick, have done the unspeakable, an easy thing to do when the soul is devoid of guilt, emotion lying in veils on the floor.
This mortal must not have this power. I, who has power—perhaps above the gods—am the only one worthy. My coldness surprises even myself.
As I have done for millennia, I search my basket for the right thread. The one I find is red—red as the breaking dawn. Red as a rose. Red as blood. I reach for the ornate scissors. It is embossed with a dove, feathers blowing away in the wind. I take the thread in my fingers, measuring. My scissors open as I twist the delicate red silk.
Suddenly I falter, images flashing in my head. A baby alone in his cradle. A man, head in his hands. Another older man and woman sobbing. A young girl tracing a gravestone, tears reflected in the smooth, black marble. A woman, like the thread I hold, kneeling, praying. I see a man crumpled in the middle of a busy road, clutching a letter, and a young girl, wearing a school uniform reaching to help him up. In the corner of my eye, I see the stoplight turn green. Tires squeal, lights flash. I look away. I see the woman, the powerful woman, fall.
Nine people's lives impacted, lost, or wasted. I suddenly can’t make the next stitch nor take the next step. My scissors fall, my stitch coming too late. I suddenly have an urge to feel remorse.
The spindle clatters to the floor as I collapse under the weight of the veil, the weight of guilt crushing me. If this is what mortals experience every day, perhaps I might not be the only one with power, the only one worthy. But thought has no power, and as I fade away, the screams of the broken threads, each life, each consequence, each emotion, ring in my ears; ghosts from whence we came.