Our November Flash Contest was based on Creativity Prompt #176 (provided by Sage Millen, former Stone Soup intern), which asked participants to create a character that had everything they'd always wanted, yet still wasn't happy. Again, we received a massive influx of submissions, all of them worthy of recognition. Interestingly, this prompt also gave rise to more poetry submissions—a welcome sight. The work we read ranged from complex narratives involving time travel to an existential search for ice cream to inspiring poetry surrounding the nature of perfection. In the end, we decided there was too much good work to limit our Honorable Mentions to just five writers, and so highlighted a sixth! 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.
"Natalie's Wish" by Josephine Alpert, 13 (Cambridge, MA)
"Allison!" by Quinn Brenner, 11 (New York, NY)
"Perfection by Sierra E., 11 (Mountain View, CA)
"Gone" by Scarlet He, 10 (Scarsdale, NY)
"Hole of Debt" by Emily Tang, 12 (Winterville, NC)
"Realization" by Kimberly Hu, 9 (Lake Oswego, OR)
"The Bird and a Boy" by Jeremy Lim, 9 (Portland, OR)
"Dare to Dream" by Lui Lung, 12 (Danville, CA)
"Pride" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 10 (Brooklyn, NY)
"Boredom" by Liyue Sally Wang, 10 (Newton, MA)
"A Month of Awakening" by Eliya Wee, 11 (Menlo Park, CA)
Josephine Alpert, 13
Every child of Lisren city was allowed one wish from the Wish Maker. No matter how impossible or crazy, they were guaranteed their wish to come true. Many kids wanted to use their wish right away and regretted it as they grew up. Things like an infinite supply of the “best best best chocolate in the whole wide world!” as Natalie’s little cousin had wished. Some wished for powers, like the ability of flight or time traveling. It only made their world more chaotic and confusing, but it was within the rules of the Wish Maker. Her mother had already made a wish for infinite money and so there wasn’t anything Natalie could think of that she really wanted. She chose to be teleported to the future. She could see what their planet would become. Would there be flying cars? Houses on Mars? Gravity boots? Something she had thought of as a kid of course. In her wild imagination an idea existed that was impossible. What if in the future there existed boots where you could reverse your own gravity. “You could bounce around like you were on the moon!” She had told her mother. Now she was going to see it all.
Standing there, the Wish Maker in front of her.
“I want to see a glimpse of the future. An hour of it preferably.”
“Your wish will be made,” said the Wish Maker, and suddenly, swirls of colors began to surround her. She felt like she was being lifted off the ground, and, in curiosity, reached out to touch the colors. They felt like cotton candy, like she imagined how the clouds felt in fairytales. She was soaring through a portal of colors that her eyes could not comprehend. She never saw them before and it was so hard to take in after she came down to the ground with a THUD.
The portal of colors closed behind her and Natalie was afraid to look up. For what would be in front of her would be the future of her planet. She was in a torn up building; in the distance, rubble had caved in and light poured from the crumpled ceiling. The ground was a dusted white. If it wasn’t for the light from the ceiling she would be in total darkness. Why was there no power? Wasn’t this the very advanced future? She stood up and walked around the space. It seemed to be an office, but the chairs and desks were strewn about laying on their sides. Pencils and papers littered the floor. What had happened here? Certainly this was just a small accident and the amazing world was just outside. If she could only find the door.
Minutes later, after searching and searching, she came across a stairwell. The stairs were not ordinary. Not some escalator, but a small platform the size of a dining table was there. It wasn’t an elevator, certainly, but the flashing blue button made her want to try it out. She stepped on the platform and pressed the button and a rush of wind came up. The platform was plummeting down at an amazing speed. Was she going to die? Fall to her death? She screamed but it ended as quick as it started, and she floated above what looked like a large fan. She could tell she was on the bottom floor because of the light from outside passing through the huge glass doors. Her feet dangled above as she flailed to get back to the ground. Her feet touched the ground and she ran to the doors. This was it.
She noticed the glass of the door was broken when she opened it. Outside, buildings were collapsed and the streets barren. Fire crackled in the distance and she was speechless. A man limped by and caught a glimpse of her. The man attempted to run away but he only slowly limped. “This . . . this can’t be possible.”
She walked along the streets. The longer she walked the more her shoulders slumped and her high hopes plummeted. Was this really the future? It couldn't be. A small girl about 10 was sitting on the ground holding her knees to her chest.
“Are you okay?” Natalie asked.
“A-another p-person?” The girl stuttered.
“What do you mean? There’s a w-war.”
“Where are your parents?”
“I-I-don’t . . . know”
“Can I—can I help you find them?” Natalie asked.
“Maybe . . .”
The girl stood up. She pointed to a partially collapsed building. “I live there.”
“Ok, then let’s check there first.” Natalie said.
As they walked towards the building, her mind jumbled, there was a sudden loud boom. She grabbed the little girl’s hand and led her to cover. As they regained their breath standing under a dirty tarp, she looked at the street. Beyond, a little ways down the street, was a huge dent in the ground. By the size of the hole, it looked like a crater had landed. There were no words to describe her horror.
She looked at her watch. Fifty-two minutes had passed while they had been searching the building, which the little girl had claimed to be her home. Natalie was sitting on the ground trying to arrange her thoughts. She wished she’d never made her wish. Even if this was still the future she would be happier if she didn’t know. She knew she only had eight minutes until she could leave. But those eight minutes felt like forever.
Five minutes to go. She felt bad for the little girl surviving in such a place, but Natalie didn’t know if there was a way to bring her back with her. To a better time where the girl could live happily. She knew she wouldn’t experience any of this chaos in her own lifetime. She was far, far, far away in the future. It was worth a shot, however.
Three minutes to go. She called the girl, because they had separated to cover more of the building. She was starting to sweat. Up and down the stairs. Where had they separated again? Two minutes to go. Natalie was speeding through each floor yelling and searching. She finally found the girl, who was holding a small picture frame in her hand. Natalie didn't have time to look at the photo in the girl’s hand, however. Thirty seconds to go. She raced towards the girl.
“Hold my hand!”
“I’m gonna get you outta here!”
The girl reluctantly reached out. Ten.
“To where?” Eight.
“To a better time.” Six.
“A time with no war?” Three.
The girl hid her smile.
The colors formed again as they flew through an endless portal. Ahead was a small family house. It was Natalie’s. She recognized the blue flowers in the yard and the huge tire swing. Her cat was waiting at the window, the reflection of the sun bouncing off the glass. As their feet came gently touched on the ground Natalie turned to the girl.
Quinn Brenner, 11
Though you weren’t born first,
You’re still twin A
And I’m twin B
You were chosen by dad
Was it because of your long eyelashes?
Was it because of your big baby-doll eyes?
If only not for you,
Dad wouldn’t have left
And I’d be there too
We are different but the same
You have everything in the world
And all I can do is pretend to smile
You can buy anything
I’m struggling with mom
You have dad’s business
I have nothing
But after everything
It isn’t enough
IT IS NEVER ENOUGH FOR YOU
And I make do with what I have
You try to ruin my day
Then call ME a party pooper
You don’t understand
Everything is harder for me
Than your life is
When dad took you and not me
You just don’t understand.
You never will.
I hate you
I love you
You have everything
I have NOTHING
You don’t share.
You don’t give.
You don’t love.
You ask for
Sierra E., 11
there is a student in my class
who is the epitome of perfect
she resides in a magnificent manor
with identical engraved marble pillars that rise
on either side of the double door,
unlike Tracy, who resides
in a one-bedroom apartment with four siblings,
with no double door,
and certainly no pillars
she has a flawless family
with an amiable little brother
who never barges into her room
and an adoring mother,
who volunteers at every event at school
and a benevolent father, who laughs
more often than not
and has the ability to cook
perfect pumpkin pancakes,
unlike Peter, who has parents who
have been divorced since he was small
and shuttles between homes on the weekends
and a sister who uses a wheelchair
she has an attractive appearance,
with rosy red cheeks
and golden locks with a gentle curl
and blue eyes the shade
of a cloudless sky,
unlike Josie, who has
gorgeous dark dreadlocks
but was once told
by a menacing bully
that her hair looked as though it
belonged on a dog,
not a human
she has parents who speak
excellent English and can
assist her with every essay,
editing them until they seem written
by professional authors,
unlike Marisol, whose parents
arrived in this country barely
speaking English, and requests my help
on every essay that is assigned
she has a genteel grandmother
who strolls the streets as she pleases
and shops for prim and proper dresses, while
purchasing decadent French macarons
for her precious granddaughter,
unlike Mei, who has a grandmother
who has feared the outside world ever since she was
spat upon in the parking lot of the local Asian market
because she is Chinese
she freely displays fashionable hairpieces
and silvery earrings,
unlike Hanifa, who constantly has to explain
the hajib she wears and why it is important
to her religion
she is popular in our school,
charismatic, with an air of celebrity, a
beaming smile always on her face,
and a gracefully athletic figure,
unlike me, who never
gets invited to the sleepovers
that she always attends,
who is more studious than athletic,
who prefers a book to
but, however perfect her life is,
she is not happy
for how can she be happy
when she has never known unhappiness?
for Tracy has the closest of bonds
with her four siblings
whom she treasures
for Peter has the resilience and compassion
it takes to care for
his sister, who cherishes him
for Josie has the joy of
her church choir, where she can
sing with her true friends
who don’t judge her by her appearance
for Marisol can fluently speak
the melodious language as well as grow up with
the colorful culture
of her ancestors
for Mei has the comforting warmth
of her grandmother,
who steams juicy, gingery pork dumplings
on frigid December evenings
for Hanifa has the feast of Ramadan,
with her family gathering around a long table,
her uncle regaling with tales of his boyhood in
his home country, before his family had to flee
for I have the journeys
that I’ve accumulated
through the compelling novels I’ve read
for we have the differences that are the shimmering jewels
of life concealed in crevices among the rocks
so perhaps perfection lies in the
beauty of imperfection
Scarlet He, 10
Once, in a faraway land, there was a person. Yes, a person, a plain, plain, person. This 'person,' Chuo, was always wanting something. Always, always wanting, wanting, something.
Chuo lived in a small hut on the outskirts of Happiness Town, a town that was happy and joyful as a buzzing bee collecting loads of pollen and nectar. A happy, happy, joyful, town.
This time, Chuo wanted ice cream. He longed for the creamy texture of the ice cream and gooey consistency of his favorite syrup, Super Happy Yummy Creamy Maple Syrup. Mmm, he thought, already drooling at the mouth. Super Happy Yummy Creamy Maple Syrup is my favorite. Yes, all he thought was of what he wanted and how it was the best and his favorite. His best, best, favorite things.
As he scrambled from his hut and into Happiness Town. Flowers of the rainbow were blooming all around him, large crowds of people were zooming by, chattering like they had no care in the world, and birds sang in the distance.
"Lovely day," he greeted a person walking by him, but he really was not feeling lovely.
"I can't feel lovely until I've gotten my ice cream." he muttered to himself as he came up to the usual shining stand of the ice cream shop.
The shop had bright, bursting, beautiful colors painted on it. The wooden deck was standing on top of a large flower bed, which was exploding with color. Metal white chairs were propped on the deck and many people wearing all sorts of clothes were occupying them. They sure do love color, thought Chuo, miserably.
"Three scoops of Neapolitan ice cream with a large drizzle of Super Happy Yummy Creamy Maple Syrup and black licorice gooey sprinkles," said Chuo to the cashier, who was already scooping out his ice cream.
"Here you go, $5.00, and thank you!" replied the cashier with a humongous grin spread from the corners of his face.
Chuo paid up, then hurried to the nearest unoccupied seat with his heaping scoops of ice cream. The ice cream looked absolutely delicious; the scoops of ice cream itself were the perfect mixture of sweet and icy cold, and it was creamy like no other. The syrup was too good to be true—the gooey sweet rainbow sauce was dripping down the scoops of ice cream and melting into it, turning the ice cream even sweeter. It had jet black sprinkles mixed into it, and it was shining in the sunlight. Chuo licked his lips, then dug in, snarfing up the ice cream in one huge gulp. This time, Chuo grinned a huge grin. A huge, huge, grin.
"Mmm, mm, mmm," Chuo gurgled, his mouth full of ice cream.
Despite the ice cream being delicious, Chuo seemingly still wasn't happy. The ice cream was there, but all of a sudden it was gone! Chuo lumbered down the crowded cobblestone streets of Happiness Town, then arrived at his own home and slumped slowly into his chair. He slumped slowly, slowly, slowly.
Hole of Debt
Emily Tang, 12
Squatting on the dirty, rundown streets of Boston is a distant memory.
I fell into hole after hole, debt into debt. I ended up with a concrete road for a bed.
I remember begging others for money and food, for safety and comfort—things I never received, even after all my struggles.
It was tough.
I decided that begging wasn’t the road for me anymore. I turned to commitment.
For days, for weeks, for months, I tried getting a job. I interviewed in my best shirt, which was still peppered with holes. There was a giant brown stain on the front.
I received a dirty look and an automatic “no.”
I shoveled snow, mowed lawns, and walked dogs. I got enough to own a fine shirt, one with collars.
I got a fine enough shirt to get a job and earn money.
Things went uphill from there.
Promotion after promotion, raise after raise.
My eyes started clouding over with greed.
I decided to start a small business, a shop sitting at the corner of the road.
It was a flower shop.
You see, when I was gardening many years prior, I discovered a way to make the flowers grow vibrant, and to let out the sweetest floral scent.
Customers crowded into my corner shop, their hands full with money.
My eyes gleamed with greed.
That turned into a company, with relations across the globe.
Years later, I sat by the warmth of my fireplace, frowning with a cup of tea in my hands. My eyes wrinkled in the corners, marked by age.
A rosy pink flower petal fell from a vase, dropping onto the wooden floor.
I was unsatisfied.
I want it! I need it! I deserve it! Give me it all, I shouted.
Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so impulsive.
Hindsight makes everything look fuzzier.
Money was thrown away hastily, with my bank alerting me of my recent purchases. I swiped away at the notifications, and started spending more.
My unease was endless. My unhappiness was endless. I needed more and more.
My friends cried to me, More of what?
Their shouts echoed in the cold, dark hallway of my mansion.
Anything, everything. I need it all, I replied.
And I felt myself falling into that black hole again, only this time, never to climb out.