Our October Flash Contest was based on Creativity Prompt #172 (provided by Molly Torinus, Stone Soup contributor), which asked participants to perform the meta task of writing about somebody writing a story. The result was a wave of submissions unlike we have ever seen, making the selection process this month even more difficult. We read stories that anthropomorphized bananas, that projected protagonists' lives far into the future, that literally wrote out entire stories within stories, and much, much more. In the end, we wound up with five winners and five honorable mentions whose fantastic and distinct work gives shape to a bright and promising future! 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.
"With Great Power..." by Jack Liu, 13 (Livingston, NJ)
"Words" by Lui Lung, 12 (Danville, CA)
"Myrtle and Sage" by Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11 (Newark, OH)
"Rejection Miracle" by Alexandra Steyn, 12 (Greenwich, CT)
"Coffee Mates" by Emily Tang, 12 (Winterville, NC)
"Crumpled Papers" by Anushka Dhar, 12 (Hillsborough, NJ)
"Charlotte's Unusual Story" by Hannah Francis, 11 (Stanford, CA)
"Writer's Block" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 10 (Brooklyn, NY)
"It Should Bother You" by Violet Solana Perez, 13 (Scarsborough, ON, Canada)
"Behind the Counter" by Eliya Wee, 11 (Menlo Park, CA)
With Great Power...
Jack Liu, 13
George slammed his fist onto the table, staring at his screen. He stared down into his lap, feeling the immense pressure that he was in. He sighed as he spun around in his old chair that was on the verge of breaking and took a bite of his sandwich that was on the damaged fold up table. It tasted the same as always: the sad taste of bologna and lettuce. Ever since his family hit hard times 3 months ago, he’d only been eating sandwiches with various processed meats. He got up to check on his family and found that they were all sleeping soundly on the floor on the ancient air mattress behind him. He heard the breathing of his mother, father and younger sister and was entranced for a bit, reflecting on better days. He snapped out of it once his stomach rumbled again, shook it off, and stared into the bright computer screen. He stared at the text that was written and started writing. “Lucas sat in his chair, staring up into the ceiling on his warm comfy bed...”
Suddenly, out of nowhere there was a loud thud. George turned around; his whole family was sleeping on a giant bed instead of an air mattress and there was enough room for George to sleep there as well! George froze in shock; there was no possible way that this was real. All he did was write in his story. He shook his head in utter disbelief, spun back in his chair, and started typing “Lucas got some steak.”
Again, just like the last time, a loud thud, and a plate was in front of him, with the most scrumptious looking steak he had seen in a long, long time. There were also utensils for him to eat with. George snatched them up and started cutting and devouring his steak so fast that within 5 minutes he was all done. He licked his lips as he felt the taste of the steak leave his tongue. Now, with his newfound power George contemplated all of the possibilities: he could be rich, famous, he could bring his family out of poverty. Everything he ever dreamed of could become reality. What would he do with all this power?
George slipped into his spot in the bed and closed his eyes.
The next morning he woke up, groggy, as his parents and younger sister gawked at the presence of their new bed.
“Where did this come from?” They all asked in unison, looking at George with deep interest.
“Last night I discovered that I can summon things if I write it in my story,” George said, scratching his head.
“Then all our problems are solved! We can go back to life the way it was before! Before all of the hardships and pain.” His father had that glowing look in his eyes that George had seen before in happier days.
George thought long and hard about what his father said. There was no way that such a wonderful gift could come without its consequences. Soon he would learn that there would be dire consequences for using this power too often.
Lui Lung, 12
To be educated was to be a threat. It was dangerous for us to read, to write, to learn what no one else would tell us but ourselves. It was wrong. We were not born free, we did not live free, and we did not die free. This was what they told me, and I believed them.
When I was young, I thought that my mother was dangerous, for she knew the forbidden ways. Someone had taught her. And when night fell, she taught me, too. With the speckled silver of the stars above us and the verdant green of the leaves by our side, she gave me the most valuable gift I had ever known. Words.
Words were my sanctuary. Traced against the black canvas of the sky with my mother’s long, deft fingers. Spelled out in the earth with a branch. Spoken aloud in tales passed down for generations. Words became a place I could retreat to each night when I was so often warned to keep my mouth shut. I treasured every letter my mother offered me, held it near so it wouldn’t abandon me until I was sure I knew it well. I whispered my words to the stars, and the stars listened when no one else would.
But come morning light, the stars would leave me and so would my words. The hazy light of dawn was a bleak reminder that I was not free, and my words were not either. Always hastily stamped away with a foot so that they wouldn’t see, crushed into dirt atop the ground.
Still, I had my mother and the language we shared. Until I didn’t.
They took her. They took my mother. Sold off to a rich man far, far away. I hadn’t held her close enough and she had slipped away along with the cover of night. Words found me then, torn from my throat in shrieks, strangled noises that did not sound like my own. They punished me for it, but they didn’t have to bother. I didn’t dare visit my words anymore. They were right. People like us were not meant for such things. Sorrow was an inescapable well, and I sunk deep into the water like a stone.
Yet eventually, words found me again. After years had passed, that despair had given way to anger. I wasn’t going to let them take my words from me as they had taken everything else. Slowly, words lured me back under the canopy of the trees, back to my stars. I learned, I read, I wrote. A single word stuck in my mind, so foreign and unimaginable I was afraid to acknowledge it. Freedom. It was a promise, a shred of hope, and I was determined not to let it leave me. I taught the rest, the unseen ones who hungered for knowledge just as I had. I was dangerous now, too.
Now I lifted my chin to the skies. Tonight was new, and it was the last night we suffered in silence. The dappled beauty of the moon lit my path. It would not be easy, but the road was never simple. My life was my story, and it was mine alone to write. With the stars guiding my hand and my words as my weapon, I was going to be free.
Myrtle and Sage
Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11
Coffee splattered on the wooden floors. My eyes numbly lingered on the aquamarine shards. Mae clasped her red mug, nearly cracking the handle. Her granddaughter, Winnie, was at the head of the dinner table, a mere shell of her former self. Peter stammered. “What...I...I didn’t expect...”
“None of us did,” I snapped at the carpenter. “Nobody comes into the dining room expecting to see that someone has been poisoned." Mae turned to me and—
My pencil struck the pale yellow wall. Throughout the last fifty-two minutes, I had been writing and erasing, again and again, trying to improve these few mediocre sentences. Frustration screamed inside of me as this exciting, intriguing chapter aggravated me. Uprooted memories were nagging me, refusing to be buried beneath my fantasy world. I forced myself to forget the whispers of “Hey, Sage,” and the faded purple ball between my fingers. A sense of comfort came over me as I left my own world and entered the one I had created. “Where was I?” I muttered, happily turning back to my scrawled words.
Tuesday came and went, bringing scribbled bursts of creativity and breaks filled with thoughtful silence. I spent the entire holiday in my bedroom, writing. The leisurely afternoon went on and a content smile spread on my face as the story absorbed me.
“5:30,” I demanded, “Where were we all at 5:30?”
“I was gardening” Mae replied, a slight tremor in her voice.
“Myrtle, you don’t have to take this on, the police have got it covered and its dangerous you know,” Leo muttered hesitantly.
I sighed .“Thank you for caring Leo, but we are already involved. I've known Winnie since I was eight years old, and all this still doesn’t feel real. I guess that this is the next best thing to having Winnie back."
“Well said,” Anna said, her face expressionless as she turned back to all the numbers and letters on her computer screen. Serious, quiet Anna was so different from her cousin Winnie. Winnie had never taken a thing seriously, blowing away opportunities and wisdom like dandelion seeds. I shook away my thoughts and analyzed the facts. “Mae says that she was in the garden. Peter claims that he was making Maud a wooden doll in the basement. We can exclude Maud from the case. However mature she acts, she’s still only nine years old. Leo was teaching Maud how to play the cello, and we all heard the music. Anna was on the patio and I was in the kitchen, baking the cake for dinner." Quietly, I added, "And one of us crept away from the others, unnoticed, and poisoned Winnie."
The policeman ushered me into the drawing room. We discussed possibilities and alibis. I couldn’t suppress some slight excitement at playing the role of a detective, feeling oddly light, like Winnie. My spirits dimmed as the maddening conversation went on. The only physical clue was the specks of sawdust on the table—no one could be ruled out. After half an hour of trying to tie up loose ends, I found myself pacing around the sunlit patio. All I knew was that I needed to think.
I found myself thinking, too. Wednesday’s evening daze clouded my mind as memories enveloped me. I went back to a sunny, humid day, nine years ago. The cheerful weather had made the day feel even more daunting. I had felt like the sun was lying, making empty promises. The day had an ominous, odd air, which I had simply called wrong when I was four years old. I had wrapped my clumsy fingers around our ball, leaving tiny, crescent moon marks in the purple rubber. I sat on our neatly trimmed grass, crushing the pristine blades. My eyes never wandered from the other house’s ornately carved brown door. Nearly twenty minutes had passed before the doorknob had finally turned. I had leapt to my feet and sprinted on my short legs. Breathless, I gasped at the little boy. “Hi Cody," I said. Cody’s voice had been sullen when he whispered “We’re moving.” So many things had flashed through my naive mind when my first friend uttered those nightmarish words. He had been my idol, so much older and wiser. When Cody came home from kindergarten we became sailors, dragons, and so much more. We tossed the purple ball and clutched it like buried treasure. When the day faded away, our mothers would shyly bring us inside. Suddenly, my little brother poked his curly head in the door.
“Its dinnertime Sage...Why are you staring at me weirdly?”
I escaped the fog of memories and grinned, getting to my feet. “I’m coming Finn, I was just lost in thought.”
I crouched on the red and white rug, embellished with golden swirls. I listened to the policemen's hushed discussion.
“What do you think about Leo Campbell?”
“He has a good alibi."
"Myrtle Everly was closest to the dining room."
On and on the conversation went, bringing up and shooting down ideas. It seemed so queer that only three weeks ago Winnie had showed me around her grandmother’s mansion, radiating energy and life. Soft footsteps startled me and I was greeted by a figure in striped pajamas with curious eyes. Maud offered no reason for wandering the corridors; she only whispered “Hello." I found myself trying to hide a smile as she said the casual word in a dark hallway, as we eavesdropped on the police. “If you don’t ask me why I’m here, you can stay,” I said, watching a wide grin appear on Winnie’s sister’s calm face. Kneeling in the hall, me and the cross-legged nine-year-old listened.
Thursday afternoon, sitting at my white desk gloriously speckled with eraser shavings, I remembered the beginning of this school year. Coming into the classroom, I saw Cody for the first time since I was a toddler. Our teacher had introduced him as a new student, but he brought back a thousand old memories. Nine years was a long time, and many, many things had changed. I didn’t know where to start, or why I was even hesitating. Suddenly, Finn interrupted my anxious contemplations, and chased everything out of my mind with excited, childish chatter.
“You snuck inside and killed her, I can prove it Mae!" Before I could open the folder in my hands, Mae’s casual voice chimed in my ears. “But you were the one who poisoned Winnie." Pictures and papers slipped out of my grasp and scattered on the carpet. Before I could deny the words, Peter cleared his throat.
“We knew, Myrtle, even if nobody else did. Maud told us. You weren’t on your guard around her. You gave her so many hints and clues that you practically confessed to her. You couldn’t hide yourself from her and she figured it all out last night, crouched in the corridor with you.”
I sputtered. “What? I-I didn’t...” Leo pressed a plane ticket into my hand, his eyes compassionate.
“Go somewhere—anywhere far from here. We don’t blame you, but you have to get away,” Anna instructed. Breathing in deeply, I glanced back and walked out of the door.
Strolling down the road, my head grew clearer. My story had lightened me, as it always did. When I created another world, entirely new and different, my own life felt distant. I poured all my confusion, stress and emotions into my characters, leaving only blissful little joys behind. Myrtle was completely different from me. She was much smarter and much more ruthless, but shadows of myself lingered inside her. Myrtle’s love for Maud reflected my adoration for Finn. Smirking, I realized that her dramatic flair matched mine. In the distance, I noticed a blurry figure standing ahead of me. Taller and older, in a blue sweatshirt with a white face, but still the boy who ran around our shredded grass in a colorful little t-shirt. Cody turned towards me uncertainly. I walked up to him and smiled softly. For the first time in nine years the miles of space and time between us dissolved, and sweet memories were awakened once more. We stood on the sidewalk in friendly silence. Weeds and wildflowers grazed our feet as we gazed at the evening skies.
Click, click, click. I finally finished typing up my letter. My older brother, Adam, fidgeted with the envelope.
“I’m supposed to give this to Mae right?”
“Yes," I briskly replied. “Just tell them your name and they’ll understand."
At the door, Adam hesitated. “Myrtle...”
I swiveled around in my chair and muttered distractedly, “Yeah?" He looked down at the pristine, white envelope.
“It was brave you know. Doing all of this, starting over again...Is it true that Winnie was—"
“Its all in the past,” I cut him off, tossing away the papers in my hand. Suddenly, my composure melted away and I jumped up and hugged my brother. Sheepishly grinning, I waved goodbye. I watched from the window of my apartment as Adam became another fleck among all the others in New York City. Looking out at the snow, I felt a peculiar sense of tranquility. Christmas was approaching. Postage stamps had been found and letters had been sent. Life went on. I pressed my hands against the frost-tinted windows as if I was seven years old. I smiled, watching a perfect crystal snowflake fall.
Alexandra Steyn, 12
The email arrived in my inbox. The words—in my head, they were red and bold and angry—screamed at me. The world turned colors. Crimson, charcoal, ash. I felt the words swirl around me, I felt them blink and laugh at me, I felt them stick to my skin like tattoos and refuse to peel off.
I didn’t want to read any more. I didn’t want to do anything. So, I did the same thing I always did: I found a blank spot in the wall and focused on it. But, of course, even that had to turn out to be a major disappointment. My mind wouldn’t stop thinking about that email.
How many months had I spent working? It felt like ages. Whenever I didn’t have school, homework, or activities, I had written. I poured my heart and soul into that book. I revised and edited so many times, I lost track. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair.
The daydreams . . . the last-minute edits . . . the frantic readings . . . the time I spent looking over past winners’ works. Was it really all for nothing?
My first rejection letter, and I was a mess. The second book I was writing—the sequel to the one that had been denied—was still open on my laptop. Angrily, I quit the tab. Apparently no one valued my work, so there was no point in trying. A book was also half open on my bed. That was immediately shoved to the floor. If my work wasn’t recognized, then others’ work wouldn’t be recognized either.
That’s how Dad found me, an hour later, in the same exact spot, except for the fact that all my books were strewn about the floor, my backpack was overturned with my school materials spilling out of it, and my bed was completely undone.
He didn’t say a word. He just poked his head in, calmly took in his surroundings, and stepped over the maze of my room to sit on my bed. Gently, he removed my laptop from my desperate clutch, opened it up, read the email silently, and closed it again.
“Honey, it was just one rejection letter. Your work is still great.”
His words offered no comfort to me. I lifted my tear-stained face and scowled at him. “How can you even say that? Obviously someone disagrees. It starts with one, then two, then three, and four, five, six . . .”
“I still believe in you. You still believe in yourself, too, right?”
“No.” I thought again of those glaring words, and my world tilted. No. I didn’t believe in myself. Not anymore.
“Think about it this way. Your novel was amazing, powerful, everything that a novel can be—it just wasn’t what they were looking for. It doesn’t mean your writing is bad, it means that it didn’t fit the judges’ criteria.”
For a moment, those words seemed to find a place in my mind. Then the moment vanished, and the words plastered to my skin became larger, as if I needed another reminder of my failure.
“I don’t care what you say! I still failed!” I said, and punched the pillow for added effect.
“Madilyn, I’ll only say this once, so I hope you’re listening. Great writers aren’t geniuses from the moment they’re born (remember: you’re only twelve), and usually, they get a thousand rejection letters before they publish even one book. Take your awesome ideas and creativity, and finish that sequel. When you do—when both are finished—revise, edit, revise, edit, revise, edit. Then, maybe we can find you an agent, get an editor, and possibly publish your book. But I’m not doing that until you get your butt off this bed, open that computer, and start working!”
Those words floated up to me like a miracle straight out of heaven, enveloped and cushioned my head, and wiggled their way into my heart. One by one, the bitter words peeled themselves off of my skin and disappeared. Good riddance, I thought.
Quickly, I opened my computer and began typing. The pot of words that had been closed up began pouring out again, too fast for me to keep track of. Ideas swirled by, waiting just to see if they would be picked up and set aside for further scrutinization before moving along the conveyor belt. Somewhere in that time, Dad left. I couldn’t tell you when; I was well into my novel by that time. But later, I made sure to thank him for reigniting my dreams.
Now, thirty years later, I’ve published both books and more. I’m the famous acclaimed author of the Outer series, which was on the New York Times bestseller list. Needless to say, I’ve gotten many more rejection letters since then. But because of my dad, I’ve never given up on my dreams, and eventually, I landed in the right place.
Emily Tang, 12
Words are stronger than steel. Words hurt more than the sharpest sword.
I discovered this when I picked up my first book.
To Kill a Mockingbird, it read. I’ve loved reading ever since.
When I was first in middle school, I wore gangly glasses that made my eyes seem ten times their regular size. Then I saw them.
They pushed me away, laughing.
Glasses askew, books tumbling from my grasp—The Catcher in the Rye, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights—my vision seared red.
I’m older now, of course. But now, my name is imprinted on millions of pieces of blank bark. Bark that has been distributed all over the country. Bark that contains some of the most powerful objects in the world. People’s eyes widen when they read my name in small, black letters. Did their eyes glaze over in guilt? In shame? Perhaps we will never know.
We never will.
I plop down onto the chair and square my shoulders to my laptop. Its white light blinds me momentarily. It opens to reveal a document covered in small font. My story.
My coffee cup is full. It contains a creamy, sweet liquid. The warm brown liquid swirls around when I pick it up. It is steaming, with small, wispy tendrils coming from the top. I bring the mug to my mouth. Licking my lips, I start typing.
I take short glances at my brainstorming book for ideas. It is covered in messy, small letters.
I sit at my computer, staring at the white screen. The clacking keyboard draws me away from worry. My brain goes wild with imagination.
I write more in my brainstorming book when ideas pop into my head. My head must be stuffed full with lightbulbs. I sip my coffee and decide to take a break.
My coffee cup has been drained halfway. The drink cools and the whites, browns, and pale peaches blend together.
I sink on the couch and pull out my newest read.
When others look at a book, they see words. I see a universe, waiting to be explored.
Maybe I’d get some inspiration from this book. As my eyes scan the pages, a sudden idea strikes me.
I spring up from the couch. My eyes search the room. I find the brainstorming book, and scribble furiously in it. Letting out a relieved breath, I drag myself back to the laptop. I debate the pros and cons of adding my idea into the book. I finally decide to add it.
I glance at my clock and realize that it's 9 P.M.
Time goes faster when you’re having fun.
I look back at my laptop and realize that my book is coming to a close. As I type in the final words, I feel a twinge of sadness.
Realizing the constant pressure of death magnifies the bittersweetness of love.
I send the final pages to my editor. Leaning back, I close my eyes. Whenever I finish a book, I discover the beauty of writing again.
That’s why I write. For the happy times. The sad endings. But mostly, I live for every moment.
My coffee cup is empty. The remaining dabs of liquid are cold by now.